Why don’t more retailers ‘get’ curation?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Aug 24, 2017
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

Do retailers realize how important curation is when it comes to differentiating their brands? Short answer: Nope.

If you can’t explain to customers why you’re different, then the only thing you have available to compete on is price — and maybe availability.

With curation, you’re adding value to the content by drawing the most important ideas out of the noise. You’ve gone through the effort of finding important perspectives and you’re helping your customers save time by bringing together the most appealing items for their enjoyment. Even if you don’t own the brands — even if you don’t own the opinions about which brands are better than others — you still must rely on content to help set yourself apart from every other retailer who can get their hands on the exact same brands.

It’s also increasingly important for assortment selection. With Amazon.com lurking behind every browser click, there is no way retailers can win on breadth of product selection. You can’t out-assort Amazon or Google. But what you can do is add value to your assortment by helping shoppers understand that they can save time and increase their cool factor by relying on you, the expert, for the best stuff.

Yet, as you’ll see when our latest e-commerce benchmark report comes out, creating a differentiating assortment is bottom of the list in operational challenges. Only 11 percent of respondents cited it as a top-three challenge. I feel like brand manufacturers generally understand this concept of curation better than most retailers — they have to justify their price premium to consumers somehow. But I would think general merchandise retailers would understand this even better and they simply do not.

You can’t out-Amazon Amazon. But whether you have your own brands or a bunch of national brands, you can out-curate them. And when you do that, you naturally create vitally important content — an explanation of why you made the choices you did that helps become the foundation of differentiation and a way to create engagement with shoppers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role does curation provide in helping retailers differentiate from the competition? What are the best ways for retailers to actively communicate their role as curators of needed products and services for their customers?

Braintrust
"Any opportunity for a retailer to be different from their competition is significant, and curation is something retailers need to recognize. "
"Retailers think more choice is better. In 2017, more choice is work. And work leads to, “I’ll think about it.”"
"Curation, essentially a form of personalization, is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and effectively compete against Amazon."

Join the Discussion!

21 Comments on "Why don’t more retailers ‘get’ curation?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Kim Garretson
BrainTrust
7 months 28 days ago

I think a critical factor for retailers who can’t out-assort Amazon and Google is to do something those companies don’t do: Put human faces on the content around explanations of their curation. If the retail brands continue to use their generic brand voice behind the curated selections, this is a switch from how customers view these brands. But when they bring out front and center the real experts behind the curated selections, this can set them apart.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

It seems that curation has become a lost art for many retailers. While I do agree that curation can play a role in helping retailers differentiate, given the monumental challenges many retailers have with basic staffing and in-store execution, curation seems like a lower priority — the 11 percent survey results seem to support this hypothesis.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Any opportunity for a retailer to be different from their competition is significant, and curation is something retailers need to recognize. Giving customers a reason to shop you, like building their trust and having them like your recommendations, is going to grow your business. It’s about creating relationships with customers and giving each customer a valuable customer experience. If more retailers would open their eyes and see the opportunities they do have rather than just chase one another with price wars, many of them would start to see sales improve as well as customer loyalty to their brand. Curation is an excellent first step in what can make a business unique and stand aside from competitors.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Curation is a vital part of any retailer’s core story: What you do, why you do it, for whom you do it and why it matters. Curation makes a powerful statement about why a business exists and why that matters. Curation involves vision and data. Vision about what you want your company to represent and data about what your potential customers want. Great curation is a way to stand out in the crowded retail environment.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
7 months 28 days ago

Curation is a suppressed art. I wouldn’t say it’s lost. Anyone who has spent time with a talented buyer knows the look a buyer gets when they see “it.” Retailers need to find a way to free the buyer from the constraints of carrying a buyer portfolio, having to chase paperwork and having to deal with bad information/data.

Buyers need more tools to be able to get to the brands and products so they can pick truly unique assortments that allow a retailer to delight consumers. Amazon has an endless shelf — you can’t beat that. But you can make your shelf infinitely more delightful. That, in the end, is what makes a consumer come to you and not Amazon.

Joanna Rutter
BrainTrust
7 months 28 days ago

This question immediately made me think of Edward Bernays’ 1928 book Propaganda. (Great read for anyone selling anything.) The quote that came to mind: “In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if every one went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds.”

Modern life necessitates curation in the first place. The way we identify authority has changed. If a retailer isn’t a curator, are they really selling anything at all?

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Beating Amazon isn’t about duplicating their product breadth and providing more. Curating unique items that fit the retail brand and style is what will win with customers. When you find a retailer you like, it is for a reason like convenience, price, brand style, unique products … There are many angles to it. Curating well and focusing on your target market’s preferences and desires are the ways to beat the competition. Excellent observation, Nikki.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Retailers think more choice is better. In 2017, more choice is work. And work leads to, “I’ll think about it.” Of course, curation used to be part of merchandising — knowing how to craft areas of discovery. Now it’s just load more crap onto the walls and hope we aren’t a warehouse for online retailers. As Nikki notes, that is not sustainable.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Excellent point Nikki! This is a central requirement to compete and win in a digital world! I’ve been preaching this to anyone who’ll listen for more than 10 years. The art (and science) of storytelling through different mediums — video, images, motion graphics and text is critical for competing in an “Amazonian” world. Once that library of content is created it is imperative to not only curate but manage AND deliver the appropriate content to the appropriate display — mobile, computer, tablet, broadcast, social media, digital sign, etc.

While it is true that brands and retailers can’t out-assort Amazon through endless aisle strategies (they’re only a gossamer veil away from Amazon enabling those solutions anyway!), brands and retailers CAN tell their story, curate, manage and share those stories that connect emotionally to their shopping audience in ways that Amazon can’t.

Kate Munro
Guest

In order to compete in today’s new retail economy, retailers need to differentiate by providing products their consumers actually want to buy. To do so, retailers need a platform that allows them to collect and curate their ideas and inspirations from day one of the product development process and leverage community knowledge to collaborate on the perfect product. A digital platform that allows for easy online communication between retailers and brands and the rest of the community — from sourcing to manufacturers — will simplify back-end processes and result in a collaborative coming together of creative minds to bring a truly valuable product to market. Retailers that focus on the quality and value of a product from the start of the process — inspiration, ideation and curation — will more easily be able to differentiate their brand and step ahead of the competition.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
7 months 28 days ago

Curation is about relevance and this is spot on. There are only a handful of retailers that indeed “get” curation. Unfortunately, the majority don’t understand it but — and this syncs well with Nikki’s data point that it’s at the bottom of retailer priorities — they think they do! Even though they ultimately resort to competing on price.

As Nikki points out, curation saves the customer time — which we think of as the new and highest-value loyalty currency — and pays it off further with coolness.

When I think about brands that curate well, especially retailers with a brick-and-mortar footprint, few do it better than Sid Mashburn. Brooks Brothers does a very good job as well but the content narrative and rationale that Sid Mashburn provides is quite compelling. And by the way, they are rarely on sale.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Curation helps to create uniqueness for retailers. This should be an important part of their merchandising process as Nikki is right, you can’t out-assort Amazon. Curating your assortment is an important way to bring value to your customers. But even that is just one part of the puzzle — there is a human element required to complete the curation process. Store associates need access to the right product information so they can demonstrate the value of the curated assortment to customers in the store. This is the store equivalent to a great product page for an online retailer. Ignoring the associate — the human element — in the curation equation is the fastest way to fail!

Ed Dunn
Guest
7 months 28 days ago

I believe retailers replaced curation with loss-lead strategy and discounting practices to compete on price and the hot thing. We have seen awkwardness in curation where fidget spinners and hover boards are promoted at retailers interested in having the “in-thing” during Black Friday.

Car dealerships are great at curation and if they do not have a car in-stock, they can search for you or purchase from another dealer as a service. Retailers may want to pay attention to the level of service car dealerships offer their customers to retain them during the discovery process.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Curation is hard work and carries a perceived risk! It means making decisions about what to stock and what not to stock. This requires a clear target market and a detailed understanding of what those consumers want. Many retailers have lost this focus and, as a result, their ranges are diffuse and lack coordination. What’s clear, however, is that shoppers increasingly want a “less is more” approach.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

It’s all about making it easy for the customer to say yes. If you don’t create compelling curated assortments on a localized basis, then good luck competing with the power assortment players. Interestingly enough, a good portion of the Amazon purchases are the result of a specific product search, where someone has already decided which product (or few products) they are going to look at to buy, if not come to the site with the end product in mind. Few people browse the Amazon assortment in its entirety to make a product decision. It’s all about curation.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

This is a lesson every retailer should learn – it is not what you want to sell but what the customer wants to buy. I learned this in 1990 while working for Amoco Oil. We had developed and were building the first large format c-store operated by a major oil company. One of our competitors in Florida had several times the numbers of SKUs we carried, but consumer research showed they thought we carried more items. The difference was we carried what they wanted and it was easy to find. This is one of the reasons why the small format Targets have found success with consumers.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Curation, essentially a form of personalization, is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and effectively compete against Amazon. While most retailers realize they need to do this, only a few are doing it well. Why? Because it requires a lot of work to get all the necessary systems and content integrated and assessable in real-time. The ability to deliver a curated experience to consumers requires retailers to gather, analyze and disseminate customer, product, pricing and inventory data across all channels in real-time. Combining real-time data and analytics with customer context enables retailers to personalize the shopping experience for each unique individual. Customer context, as defined by BRP, is the interrelated factors of customer insights and environmental conditions that make the shopping experience relevant. With advances in technology (networks, Wi-Fi, mobile, NFC, beacons, etc.) retailers have the ability to access more customer information than ever before and in real-time. Retailers have the ability to know what a customer has in her closet, what she previously purchased, what she browsed on the website and… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
7 months 28 days ago

Great discussion. Particularly because curation is one of the opportunities for retailers to establish competitive advantage Amazon can’t beat.

In fact, with all the hubbub about retail change, it’s been shocking to realize we’ve lost any healthy discussion about the absolutely critical role of PRODUCT in maintaining a reason to go to the store. For all the hype about shiny retail baubles, consumers go there to buy things.

Stores must make the process of shopping for, finding, and buying things valuable to the consumer or they’ll abandon the store and just go online to just buy stuff. (No one has yet made online shopping into fun. Online buying? Brilliant. Online shopping? Not at all.)

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Joining the discussion late today, and lots of great thoughts have already been shared in the comments. I can only add that retailers need to create awareness of their offerings via curation and other activities to drive true, elusive loyalty. Awareness of content is critical because the only other awareness of a retailer is price.

Janet Dorenkott
BrainTrust
7 months 27 days ago

I agree. Retailers definitely have to out-curate the e-tailers. They have to out-experience them as well. We had a similar discussion recently where people were actually suggesting “shaming” customers who decided to shop online for lower prices. That’s not going to work. Out-curating, creating loyalty through offering better service and experiences and getting creative to differentiate yourself will keep shoppers coming in.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

I agree that curation is a great way for stores to differentiate themselves. As the article points out, increasingly stores and etailers have the same products on sale — you can buy most things from anyone. This means there’s no longer a need to focus on having the most products, but the best selection. Long-established brands still exude a sense of authority so if they’ve picked a certain product then customers feel reassured that it’s worthwhile. It also helps to reduce the paralysis that some customers have around too much choice. It can be difficult to know what to buy when presented with so many options — curation narrows that down. Curation is a key cornerstone of concept stores as these spaces aim to create the idea of a lifestyle that customers can buy into. It’s really something every retailer should be thinking about.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Any opportunity for a retailer to be different from their competition is significant, and curation is something retailers need to recognize. "
"Retailers think more choice is better. In 2017, more choice is work. And work leads to, “I’ll think about it.”"
"Curation, essentially a form of personalization, is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and effectively compete against Amazon."

Take Our Instant Poll

How important a role does curation play for retailers seeking to differentiate their businesses from those of competitors?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...