Chaos: noun /’kā-äs/ : behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions (thank you, Google)
Chaos is a system too complex for the average observer to see any order.
I hated to file things away. Just not my thing. I would let stacks of papers and catalogs grow to the point of toppling over before biting the bullet and putting them away where they belong.
Most people called my desk messy. But in reality it was more chaotic than messy because I knew exactly what was in each of the piles. I knew there was a system and order. it was just too complex for the average person to see.
They called it messy. And they were right. Why?
Because perception trumps reality. I could argue about my “system” until the cows come home, but you and everyone with you would just see a hot mess.
That’s how customers often feel about your merchandising. There might be some sort of order to why you merchandised certain products where you did, but if that order isn’t easily recognized, then to your customers, your store is a mess. (Then again, you might be like the men’s pants at Kohl’s and be an actual mess!)
The degree to which your chaos will look messy has a lot to do with the general design and layout in your store. There are generally two distinctly different styles of setting up your store or department, and they have two different levels of allowable chaos. You could go Military or Whimsy.
MILITARY STYLE MERCHANDISING
Characteristics: Rows and aisles are straight and easily navigable. Product is displayed orderly by type and size in neat and even rows.
Pros: Easy to navigate through the store. With proper signage, it is easier to find the product you already knew you wanted. Customers who wish to browse the whole store can track where they have been and where they haven’t. Much more navigable for shopping carts and strollers. Sense of order and control for the store. Harder for shoplifters to hide.
Cons: There is less sense of discovery because it is harder to get products directly in front of a customer. Endcaps become the prime real estate but are limited. Customers are less enticed to browse. Harder to change displays and departments.
Use: This is a common layout for grocery stores and large discount stores. It also makes sense for stores that appeal more to men. Men are less likely to browse and want to find their products with the least amount of work. If you sell mostly commodities, this style suits you best.
Chaos is deadly for these stores. They are built on order. To be successful, you have to be stocking and straightening constantly.
WHIMSICAL STYLE MERCHANDISING
Characteristics: No defined rows or straight lines. Lots of curves, free-standing displays, and a meandering path. Product is grouped but not necessarily ordered.
Pros: A lot of product ends up facing directly at the customer as she makes her way through the store. More chance for discovery of new products or forgotten products. Sense of wonder and discovery at every turn. Easy to change out product displays. Store always feels new.
Cons: Not easy for strollers or shopping carts. Difficult to run in and grab something quick. Can create bottlenecks of traffic. Feels less ordered. Much more difficult to spot products out of place. Easier for shoplifters to hide.
Use: Clothing stores and gift shops employ this style to great success. Everywhere you turn a new display is facing right at you. Small boutique stores of all kinds can employ this style. Even departments within bigger stores can use this style. Just remember that it is a put off for men and for customers who want to shop quick. It appeals more to customers who like to browse and discover. If you sell mostly new and unique items, this style suits you best.
Chaos is much more forgiven in a Whimsy store – as long as the displays are neat. If you have a creative merchandiser who can make displays look fantastic, you can sell a lot of cool merchandise in a store like this. The trick, however, is that unlike the Military style, it is a lot harder to notice the messes when they do happen.
There is a fine line between chaos and mess and more often than not indie retailers are on the wrong side of that line. If you’re not sure of your own chaos, have a friend not affiliated with the store come in and see if she can tell the order of your store. If not, then customers might think you’re too messy to bother.
PS The great stores employ enough people to keep the aisles and displays neat and clean and stocked no matter what style of merchandising. Plus, those extra employees on the floor discourage shoplifting. In the race to the top, this is one of the separating factors.
PPS There are several studies that show how chronically disorganized people like me are actually smarter than average. That’s fine for my desk (and yours), but you don’t need a study to know that a hot mess of a display will turn customers away. As messy as I am, I’ve walked out of several stores because I didn’t want to dig through the heap to find what I wanted. Don’t let potential customers do the same in your store.
PPPS Your merchandising is part of your Branding because it sets the “feel” of the store. It is usually the first emotion someone feels when they enter.