Clutter detracts from shopability.
Less can certainly be more — especially in smaller, urban locations — if merchandising units in the aisles and a hodgepodge of merchandise at the front end make it difficult for shoppers to maneuver their way through a store.
The benefits of clearing away clutter were brought home to Mollie Stone's Markets in Mill Valley, Calif., when it acquired a 12,500-square-foot store in the Twin Peaks section of downtown San Francisco.
According to David Bennett, co-owner of the eight-store operator, “With another store of just 9,500 square feet about two miles away, we're very comfortable operating in tight square footage.”
But to loosen things up a bit while still increasing variety, Mollie Stone's freed up space by installing metro-style shelving, which enabled it to eliminate clumsy merchandising units that made negotiating the narrow aisles difficult, and at the same time made product facings more dense — and with the narrower shelving, the store was also able to add a little extra width to each aisle, he said.
That did require a trade-off of sorts, Bennett acknowledged, since some merchandise is stacked beyond the reach of customers or store employees, “in which case we use a step stool or a ‘grabber.’ And what we tell customers is, it's better to have the item in the store but out of reach than to not have it at all.”
Mollie Stone's also cleared up clutter between the checkstands by eliminating mismatched cases “that featured whatever the owners had purchased at the last merchandise show” and replacing them with permanent shelving that took up less floor space, and then merchandising that space more effectively.
“Now the store is much easier to shop,” Bennett said. “In fact, we're so happy with the remodeling at that store that we're planning to remodel our smaller store in the city in a similar fashion.”
Clutter is often simply a sign of management's disorganization, according to David Livingston, a site-selection analyst based in Milwaukee.
“It takes a certain talent to merchandise a store creatively, without clutter,” he told SN. “If you went into someone's home that was messy, you'd assume that person was disorganized, and it's the same with a store — a cluttered store reflects a lack of organization. For a supermarket, the more neat, clean and organized it is, the better its sales are likely to be.”
Paul Weitzel, managing partner at Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., said there's no precise formula for how much in-aisle merchandising display is too much, but “you need enough variety and displays to create excitement without going far enough to create clutter.”
“There's clearly a law of diminishing returns at work here, and there's no magic formula for how much is too much.”