Zappos Labs: The Frontier Of Online Retail Is Curation

Retail executive lays out the future of content curation.

If you think about it, fashion may actually be THE industry that started the curation trend – we just didn’t know it at the time. How could we? “Curation” is a relatively new term, but it’s finding its way into other realms; you hear about content curation, music curation – all meaning that in some way, these industries are personalizing their offer according to your individual wants, needs and likes.

Online retail has given us the ability to find almost anything we’d want to buy. In fact, offering a great selection has become the goal for many online retailers. The largest online retailer, Amazon.com has a vision to be the ‘Earth’s Biggest Selection.’ But is this vast selection too overwhelming for shoppers? A search for ‘black dress’ in Clothing & Accessories on Amazon.com brings back 65,529 results! For consumers, this large number of choices can lead to confusion, exhaustion and dissatisfied purchases, or worse, no purchase at all.

With new retailers, designers and online experiences launching daily, the need for easy discovery of relevant fashion is more important than ever. Shoppers are increasingly turning to experiences that offer a smaller set of tailored selections to help find the product that is just right for them according to their individual wants, needs and likes. A tailored experience is no longer just a desire for shoppers, it is an expectation.

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Curated retail is nothing new. Traditional brick and mortar stores have always relied on strategic merchandise presentation, attractive window displays and helpful sales associates to grab their customer’s attention and help them discover new products. Although online stores may not have the advantage of this physical and in-person appeal, they are using consumer data, advanced technologies and social media to take the curated experience to the next level.

Large retailers are looking at how they can offer a more tailored experience around their existing inventory. Zappos recently launched Glance, a shopping experience allowing users to discover the most exciting products from Zappos through curated collections. In addition to hand-picked collections, Glance allows users to heart products they love; ultimately allowing shoppers to discover products hearted by others with similar taste or by what is popular within the community.

Retailers are also turning to a limited product mix to offer a more tailored experience. Niche retailers such as Warby Parker (retro-inspired eyewear) and Frank & Oak (quality menswear) are providing a boutique experience with a price tag that’s accessible.

Many websites focus on narrowed discovery by offering products chosen by celebrities, industry experts or the social community. Social shopping site OpenSky taps celebrities and influencers to select the products they love. Fancy, a social photo site similar to Pinterest, puts curation in the hands of the community. Its goal is to connect users with similar tastes and allow them to purchase the things they like.

zappos-glance

All of the examples above help shoppers discover products that are more relevant to them. Additionally, because these experiences are hand tailored – in some cases by someone the shopper knows – they are more likely to purchase the product or share with their friends.

Although there will always be a need for the multi-category mass retail experience, curated online shopping is a huge trend that will continue to help consumers navigate the incredible selection to find what’s right for them. As online shopping behavior changes, retailers will continue to find ways to provide easy-to-use, highly personalized experiences that offer customers what they want, where they want it. Combining an online shopper’s history and preferences with human touch will lead to the perfect answer to the question, “What is right for me?”

Carrie Whitehead is the Product and UX Manager at Zappos Labs in San Francisco, where she spearheads new and innovative adventures in online shopping.

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