Should Retail Stores Provide Selection or Curation?

While buying gifts this year, I found myself in the monument to consumerism, the Mall of America. To get my bearing, I did a lap to see if I could find what I wanted: a pair of shoes and an insulated travel mug for my wife. Although there were dozens of stores at which I could have bought my gifts, I only walked into two: Williams-Sonoma and Clarks.

That’s because I did not want to stand in front of a wall of insulated tumblers with no indication of which will do the best job. I just wanted a good tumbler, and I didn’t want to have to think too much about it. Williams-Sonoma only carries high-quality stuff, and as it turned out, they only carried one travel mug in two sizes. It’s awesome, and my wife loves it.

Similarly, Clarks has a small selection of shoes, but they are all good-quality and simply-styled, just like my wife prefers. I was pretty sure I could find what I liked without worrying about sorting through shelves of shoes. And I did.

When it comes to providing selection, brick-and-mortar stores can’t measure up to shopping online. Online retail stores can stock dozens of each product, and provide customer reviews next to each one to help you choose. It’s not very often you find a retail sales associate who can compare.

I’m no retail expert, but it seems to me that where brick-and-mortar stores can provide a superior experience is in curation — doing the choosing so I don’t have to. When a store builds a reputation as selecting products according to a certain standard, whether it is quality or price or, heck, color, I am more likely to visit when I have an idea of what I want, but don’t know the precise item.