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It’s Time To Curate A Change Of Attitude

Monday September 2nd, 2013 - 12:44PM

The word “curate” brings to mind museums.

But the word is making its rounds these days in the world of retail merchandising.

Remember when a neatly presented retail assortment was referred to as effectively “edited”? Today, curated is the operative word.

It might seem to be a matter of semantics, but there is an important distinction in tone that could lead to an important distinction in performance.

Fostering Quality

Edited can imply the end result of something that has been cut and re-sorted. It conveys an almost mechanical process.

Curated… well there is a refined quality to that. It connotes the result of studious, careful consideration and selection— the craft of handpicking a collection that will be tended to with detailed care long after the initial selection is made.

When Restoration Hardware appointed Richard Harvey, the former veteran Williams-Sonoma merchandising chief, to head a new RH Kitchen and Tableware division, the company said he would “develop a curated collection” of kitchen furniture, appliances, kitchenware and tableware as part of the retailer’s high-luxury-pitched rebranding plan. RH chairman Gary Friedman even includes “Curator” among his official titles.

As pretentious as it might sound to some, perhaps a mindset fostering curation would do many well in a period that finds retailers from class to mass looking to restore identities, revenues and profits lost in the national mass merchandising onslaught of the past two-plus decades and the more recent e-commerce surge.

A Personal Touch

Niche merchants across the retail landscape have regained the favor of consumers seeking the comfort of shopping guidance with a seemingly personal touch. Home furnishings specialists have been among the top benefactors as the housing and redecorating market gradually rebounds.

The big boxes that dominate retailing don’t have to abandon massive assortments and low-price tactics to infuse their one-stop formats with buying and product development processes that rely a little more on merchandising gut than a spreadsheet might permit.

Refining Retailing

More astute product selection is especially critical to brick-and-mortar strategy as digital merchandising proffers an unlimited selection that in effect leaves the curating to consumers. 

If the in-store selection becomes nothing more than a representative mix cherry-picked from a broader and less-defined digital offering, you might get the sale either way. But you will also encourage showrooming behavior that won’t sustain the real estate in the long run.

The traditional notion of an edited assortment doesn’t cut it anymore. Curation might sound like a contrived euphemism intended to artificially refine a longstanding retail practice. It actually connotes a change of attitude needed for retail merchandising success across all channels.

Crafting a distinctive selection that can stand apart from the competition sometimes seems like a dying art. Without an intently informed, clearly defined and continuously maintained— yes, curated— approach to merchandising that consistently converts consumers at the point of sale, stores and e-commerce sites might end up feeling a lot more like museums.

—peter Giannetti