Thoughts, Insights and Inspiration

Bridging The Online and Offline Gap Through Curated Shopping

Online personalisation has been the watchword for eCommerce sites across the last twelve months, with many retailers looking to ensure their digital presence understands each of their customers through clever use of data. However, in the world of bricks and mortar stores, where data is more difficult to gather, but where retailers still need to create a welcoming and profitable presence, is it still possible to create a sense of personalisation? And if so, what role can digital and online personalisation play in it?

While personalisation is something undoubtedly best suited to the data-led world of digital marketing, there are still steps that brick and mortar stores can take to creating a personalised experience, and curated shopping is one of them. By no means a new concept, curated shopping refers to the act of selecting some of the best, most exclusive or most interesting items and showcasing them above all the other items available for purchase. This can be done across digital too (as sites such as aha and the Coveteur have proven), but so far it’s found most traction when done in physical stores.

This is because the most significant difference between a curated shopping experience and a personalised one is the human touch. Whereas personalisation is based on algorithms that assess from previously gathered data what the customer will respond to, curation is about a human being selecting the items. This gives the items a sense of exclusivity (they’re deemed to be special enough to warrant being picked out from all the other items), and makes the customer feel special too. The items are usually curated by a celebrity, expert, or other authority in the area, so the customer is given a sense of unique access to this person.

The outlets also gain a sense of exclusivity. In a homogenous world where it’s difficult to stand out and in which customers are increasingly seeking out more bespoke companies, curation gives retailers the opportunity to feel like Mom n’ Pop shops, no matter their actual scale. This point was echoed in 2014 by Arnault Castel, who founded curated shop Kapok: “I opened Kapok because I was bored with the malls, the bigger brands. I’m not the only one, as a lot of people here think like that,” he explained. “If you look at the luxury industry, you see the scale of it; it’s not real luxury, it’s mass market with an expensive price tag. There’s nothing exclusive. Real luxury is a luxury of information, of discovery, of only a few people knowing the secret of a particular brand.”

As we explored in August’s blog Can Large Multi-Nationals Be Niche?, Kapo isn’t the only business looking to explore a more curated, bespoke approach. Graze, Trunk Club, and Dollar Shave Club have all approached retail from a curated angle, showing that curation can be achieved with a huge degree of success digitally. But most interesting is the connection between online and offline, as Marie Claire and Ocado’s joint venture underlines. Working together with the online supermarket, the magazine has created Fabled, a new curated retail experience that exists both online and offline (at a location on Tottenham Court Road, London).

Fabled seeks to cater for the “fast-paced lives of the beauty-savvy” by creating a narrative that the customer travels through as they shop. As customers do this, they find digital display screens at counters offering context on the products the store houses in the shape of copy written by Marie Claire’s staff. So the customer is seeing a selection of quality goods and is able to understand why they’re so special by reading the recommendation of expert journalists from the Marie Claire magazine.

It’s a clever approach, and it means that customers feel part of an exclusive club, as members of Graze, Trunk Club, and Dollar Shave Club do. They are able to take advantage of the knowledge and authority of the magazine, and can go through the store seamlessly, safe in the knowledge that everything they’re seeing is worth their time. Indeed, in this respect, it works something a little like online personalisation by giving the customer items of interest and all the relevant information they need to make good purchasing decisions. “Unsure of that foundation? Well, it must be good because it’s in the shop, and even if you’re still not convinced, here’s some information to help you make up your mind…

In this way, Marie Claire and Ocado have effectively undertaken a UX job on the physical experience; optimising the customer journey into something a little like the one they’d take online. The availability of the digital screens only furthers this link, as does the eCommerce platform, which means that even if you don’t make the decision to buy something while you’re in the shop, you can always access the site at a later date if you decide you do want to make a purchase. It’s a clever approach, and while it’s certainly not the first of its kind, it’s arguably the most high-profile example of using curated shopping to bridge the online and offline retail gap the UK has yet seen.

For that reason, the future of stores such as Fabled is still unclear. Curated experiences in physical stores certainly have novelty value, and can help retailers make a bold statement and generate lots of positive PR. But these are short-term wins, and once the early buzz has died down, what does the curated physical experience give a retailer? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer at the moment, but as the very nature of shopping continues to alter we’re sure to get one soon. And with Fabled making a significant splash among fashionistas already, it’s sure to be an answer that uses the virtues of digital and physical in equal measure.

What do you think of curated shopping and the possibilities of using it to bridge the online and offline gap? Let us know in the comments section or get in touch via social media.


From our Blog