Curation refers to an online marketing and merchandising model in which specific products are carefully selected for a targeted set of consumers. These consumers typically have registered or subscribed with the online merchant, and have given an indication of their product preferences, tastes, shopping habits, and spending budget. The merchant then typically uses an decision-making system to present customers a handful of pre-selected products – or in some cases just one – that match their preferences. The products are often discounted and positioned as a “special, one-of-a-kind” buying opportunity.
Up until now, the conventional thinking in e-commerce has typically revolved around abundant selection and broad choices. The benefit of online shopping vs. going to a store was that you were not limited by shelf space. An online retailer, with its vast warehousing capabilities, could offer thousands of products and take advantage of incremental revenue and profit from the “long tail” – those hard-to-find and rarely sold items. To be successful in the long tail, merchants needed to focus on site functionality, intuitive navigation and search, and speed. Shoppers want to quickly load and browse through page after page of product listings and use search to find what they want. They require detailed product descriptions, specs and photos, clear pricing, reviews, and delivery information.
In some ways, the curation model is the offspring of the long tail in e-commerce and search functionality. Items are searched out and pre-selected from the sometimes overwhelming selection by experts – i.e. “curated.” These types of sites need to be clever in choosing items in which to feature and sell, and matching the right items to the right customers is paramount. The cost structure can differ too; more time, effort and investment goes into the front-end process of market research, picking trends, buying and merchandising, and customer acquisition.
Some companies that have successfully adopted this model include Groupon (one selected deal per day), Sniqueaway (for travel), and Svpply (curated shopping “wishlists”). Curation is popular for fashion sites, with the latest styles being selected and offered on sites owned by Gilt Group, Shoedazzle, Beachmint, and ThisNext. Last week I was speaking with an executive from Beachmint – they run sites are Jewelmint.com and Stylemint.com – and he was excited about the prospects of this model. He mentioned that leveraging the loyalty and repeat visits of subscribers across a number of related product categories boosts traffic, lowers customer acquisition costs, and improves targeting.
The curation approach is often used in conjunction with other twists to attract and retain customers. Groupon and Gilt Group utilize game mechanics; Shoedazzle and Beachmint bring in celebrities to curate and endorse items. ThisNext and JustBoughtIt! tap into social networks to enhance the shopping experience, as users share ideas and advice on product picks amongst friends – a niche known as social commerce.
These approaches to online shopping are growing fast and they are here to stay. They are bringing back the fun, social aspect of shopping – one thing that has seemingly been lacking in traditional e-commerce models. Many consumers love “retail therapy” - being shown the latest trends, getting fawned over by store employees, and the excitement of finding great buys with your friends. As long as this experiential side of online shopping continues to evolve, these savvy e-merchants will continue to enjoy growth and gain some very loyal customers.