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As brick-and-mortar stores struggle to stay in business and major chains (Sears, Toys R Us) have found it impossible to survive, it’s clear that retailers need a new plan. The answer: curation.
Once a word reserved for describing museum exhibits, curation is now becoming a popular strategy for retailers. In an increasingly crowded, confusing marketplace, this less-is-more approach entails culling inventory and focusing on tailoring offerings for a specific type of consumer.
The old saying “If you try to please everyone, you please no one” actually helps explain the current retail environment. The market is saturated by many companies that sell strikingly similar products, making them pretty interchangeable.
What sets a brand apart amongst so much sameness? Nothing, and that’s the problem. Instead, to thrive in the current climate, retailers need to pare down their offerings to appeal to a specific type of client.
Earlier this year, Starbucks announced that it will be removing about 200 products from its stores, explaining that it wanted to simplify operations and focus on efforts that will make a more significant impact on its revenue. Target and Kohl’s have also cut down on their in-store inventory.
For Target, streamlining has helped it integrate its in-store and online merchandise, while Kohl’s is focusing on stocking highly sought-after items in stores and offering a wider selection of items online. It turns out that not only is it more cost effective for stores to stock fewer types of items, it’s also good business, as customers find it overwhelming and unappealing to have too many choices.
But curation isn’t just for big-box stores. It’s an important strategy for smaller retailers as well. Because while you might not be able to compete with Amazon’s bottomless inventory (or even Target’s or Starbucks’), you can provide a catalog of products that really speak to your target customer (and that will keep them coming back).
How to curate
Ready to streamline your inventory? Here are some steps toward curating your merchandise and, in the process, establishing a stronger brand identity.
Describe your store and your core customer.
What is your store known for? Who do you cater to? If the answers to those questions are along the lines of “a little bit of everything” and “anyone,” then you need to focus on paring down your offerings to appeal to a specific type of customer.
If, for example, you own a boutique and your target customer is a career-oriented woman in her late 20s or early 30s, your inventory should reflect her needs and interests. You should make sure your offerings don’t skew too young (you want to avoid items more appropriate for high school or college students).
Evaluate your sales.
Review past sales records to get a sense of your strongest- and weakest-selling items. Then, take a look at the items in the middle. It’s a given that the poorest sellers should go, but you should also ask yourself whether it’s worth keeping the items on the bubble.
Other questions to ask include: Do other stores in your neighborhood sell the same things? How much are those shared items adding to your revenue? If the competition is high and the return is low, it might be time to cut these items.
Look for items that make you say “huh?”
Take a look around your store. Are there any products that seem totally out of place and off brand? The key to curation is consistency, in that your offerings should all appeal to your target customer.
Of course, it’s true that more than one type of customer will like an item, but your store shouldn’t have some products that only appeal to teenagers and other products that only appeal to middle-aged shoppers.
When streamlining your inventory, most items that you discontinue won’t be so obviously out of place, but make sure to identify (and discontinue) those that clearly don’t reflect your brand.