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When Less Is More for Online Retailers and Their Customers

In a world where an online search can turn up thousands of products, limited selections can help shoppers decide to buy

As the internet matures and expands, the number of choices available to users grows exponentially. Invariably, more solutions arise to tame the clutter. In the early days of the web, portals like Yahoo! touted hand-picked sites bundled into browsable categories. Over time, though, human curation was all but replaced by algorithm-based searching.

Yet most trends go in cycles, and this is proving true for ecommerce. Despite retailers’ quest for the ultimate Netflix-style automated, personalized recommendation system, and Facebook’s promise of using its “Open Graph” to pair people to products with greater precision, there has been a simultaneous rise in sites that provide hand-picked item selections and online retail models offering fewer products instead of more.

“Curated ecommerce is becoming recognized by both retailers and shoppers for its simplicity and ability to help fill an online void,” said Krista Garcia, eMarketer analyst and author of the new report, “Curated Ecommerce: How Less Can Be More for Shoppers.” “There will always be a place for comprehensive, multicategory retail sites, but fine-tuned collections enhanced by personal touches also perform a necessary function in the ecommerce ecosystem.”

Sites surveyed by the e-tailing group in Q4 2011 reported online curation was a growing merchandising tactic. Organizing items into branded sections was their leading approach to curation (89%), and the similar concept of grouping products according to themes experienced a 64% increase in adoption, the largest increase among tactics used.

“Failure to convert can be attributed to countless factors, but one common online buying complaint is not being able to find what one was looking for,” said Garcia. “Whether the fault of poor merchandising, limited product detail, confusing display or too many options, a typical browse or search will not always bring up the desired results. An abundance of products does not automatically translate to sales, which is why [online] retailers are exploring new ways of connecting shoppers to their catalog.”

Celebrity endorsements, book-of-the-month clubs, finely tuned product selections and expert advice have long been used to sell products, so these techniques are not unproven. What is new is how they are being translated to the web, with its greater capacity for immediacy and ability to enable sharing and socializing between customers, brands, retailers and tastemakers. Online retailers have the opportunity to offer a distinct point of view and re-contextualize products in more focused ways, often with a pared-down product offering and a highly visual style that immediately conveys brand values.


The full report, “Curated Ecommerce: How Less Can Be More for Shoppers,” also answers these key questions:

  • Why would shoppers prefer a smaller selection of products?
  • How does curated ecommerce work?
  • What do brands and retailers need to know about curated ecommerce?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. Total Access clients, log in and view the report now.


Check out today’s other articles, “Getting Consumers to ‘Touch and Feel Your Brand’ Across Media” and “Apple Devices Drive Mobile Web Use in Eastern Europe.”

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