At the Japanese lifestyle brand Muji’s Tokyo flagship, which reopened on July 28 after a renovation, shoppers have everything they need to live a quality–but un-flashy–life: fresh produce, prepared foods, plants, apparel, housewares, furniture, bikes, and even prefab homes. While Muji has flagships in the U.S., none are at this scale, and none offer the same variety. It’s a glimpse at the evolution of Muji–and retail itself.
The new store is the first to sell seasonal fresh produce grown with little-to-no chemical pesticides and fertilizers, Muji notes. The company’s aim is to reconnect city dwellers with farmers. “We plan on displaying a sign on each product, with a note from the producers and some seasonally appropriate ways to eat them,” a press release states. Meanwhile, to reduce food waste, Muji will also sell prepared soups made from the vegetables. On another level, there’s a fully constructed, furnished Muji Hut–the company’s tiny, $27,000 prefab house–that customers can check out in person. In theory, you could walk into the store and leave with a house, along with almost everything you need to live, work, and eat inside it.
It’s a familiar idea; Costco is a one-stop shop where you can buy groceries, appliances, furniture, and electronics and even get your eyeglasses prescription filled. Walmart, Target, and Kmart are similar. The difference with Muji is that it’s all from a single brand that has a specific point of view. People who step into the store know they’re getting something minimal, affordable, functional, and made with longevity in mind. Everything that’s sold in a Muji store passes a rigorous design review. You can’t say the same about what’s on the shelves in most American box stores.
Over the years, Muji has anticipated a number of retail trends, from a less-is-more sensibility to a reduction in packaging, and its new big-but-curated approach reflects a similar shift taking place in stateside retail. Target is already experimenting with a boutiquified approach that splits a store into an online pick-up-half and a browsable-half with a more select assortment of products. It remains to be seen how Amazon will leverage its purchase of Whole Foods, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think you might be able to find a wider assortment of products–top-rated, of course–in its physical grocery stores in the future.
As e-commerce continues to take market share from physical stores, retailers will have to respond. Better curation without sacrificing choice–as Muji illustrates with its Tokyo flagship–could be one strategy. Until then, we’ll have to book a trip to Japan to get the full experience.