Less is more may not be for everyone

On my way home last night I made a much needed detour into my local Trader Joe’s. The line was long but I committed to the shopping experience in order to pick up some coveted items. One cart full later and a fairly quick check out (where the cashier took time to get me another carton of eggs because one was broken), I thought to myself, Oh Trader Joe’s, how I’ve missed you.

In the September 6th  issue of Fortune Magazine, Beth Kowitt goes behind the scenes of Trader Joe’s, one of the hottest and most secretive retailers in America”.  One of my favorite secrets to success:  “swapping selection for value”. Go into any Trader Joe’s and you will be welcomed by a variety of paired down options. As Stew Leonard Jr. notes in the article, “Having a wide selection may help get customers in the store, but it won’t increase the chances they’ll buy.”  We’ve said it before, too many options can lead to analysis paralysis. Beth agrees.

So, I was surprised to read in Jack Neff’s Wal-Mart article in Ad Age a few weeks back.  Wal-Mart had announced that they were bringing back thousands of items which had been previously eliminated during Project Impact, the strategy that was initiated in 2008, to help reduce clutter and open up the customer space.  And even more surprising, sales were up since returning the displays to “Action Alley”.

How could one strategy work so well for one retailer and be the pitfall for another?  Could it be the customer base?  Or perhaps the answer lies in the role the stores play. Trader Joe’s is a supermarket, Wal-Mart is a superstore. While both offer great prices, Trader Joe’s has built a reputation for being a curator of the best food choices.  Therefore customers trust that if there are only one or two options, whether it be olives or peanut butter, those options are going to be good. Wal-Mart on the other hand, has always been the hostess with the mostest.  Obviously customers go there for what they can get at everyday low prices. They are not looking for the culled down version. 

I will still venture to guess that customers still want the aisles uncluttered and the shelves well-stocked. For Wal-Mart, allowing the customer to curate is a strategy that will be worth watching in the months to come.

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January 22, 2022
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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