5 Things We Learned from a Year in Curation

Sabena Suri
December 22, 2022
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This year was an interesting one. It felt like the world was ‘going back to normal’ (whatever that means), with gatherings, parties, and events at an all-time high. But then we had our fair share of doomsday-like events and are ending the year in a downturn. Maybe? Unclear.

Regardless, it was a great year at Canal — our first year in business with a lot of lessons learned along the way about building a team, scaling quickly, and servicing our incredible customers. 

As Head of Curation, you could say I’m a bit biased… but I think it was an especially great year for our small but mighty Curation team. After all, we created the department and paved the way for a function that’s only going to get more important

Don’t believe me? Here are five learnings from 2022 that might change your mind.

1. Curation needs clout 

Curation has been defined many ways, but my personal definition is this: applying a specific, intentional point of view to a group of objects, events, or people. There is value in being a Curator — since each person or brand brings a unique set of experiences to the table, and creates something that only comes from them. 

We’ve seen this happen time and time again with our customers. One of our favorite examples is Great Jones, a brand well regarded in the cookware industry for their bold, whimsical cookware that stands out in a sea of black, white, and gray, but also talks the talk with their signature cooking advice hotline (aptly named Potline).

With this personality, they set off to create Pantry Pals, a marketplace featuring all the ingredients to accompany a GJ pot, pan, or baking dish. From Graza Olive Oil to Sfoglini pasta, they created a one-stop shop that felt unique, ownable, and intentional. Within the first few weeks of launching Pantry Pals, Great Jones increased their AOV by 80%.

Another brand is Fellow that uses Canal to power its coffee marketplace. Fellow already sets the standard for an amazing cup of coffee with their award-winning kettle (clout), so their rightfully trusting audience is primed for coffee recommendations — a natural extension of the credibility they’ve earned through incredible products and service. A coffee marketplace simultaneously expands their catalog and transforms their site into a platform to highlight roasters big and small. Doing good while doing well? Feels like Fellow.  

TLDR; whether you’re a brand or a creator — ask yourself what you have ‘permission’ to sell. Another way to think of this: what do you want to be most known for? That’s your shop’s theme.

2. Clout needs curation 

Ok, this one might be a bit strangely worded, but hear me out: those with the most clout are already Curators. Think about anyone you follow (and love) on Instagram, or your favorite celebrities — you’re part of their audience and you care about what they have to say. You might have been persuaded to buy something they recommended. But chances are they are content creators, not shop owners. Yet. 

This is the ethos of our Talent team that scours the globe for “latent” storefronts; or creators that have the audience but aren’t monetizing that audience in a meaningful way. It’s essentially untapped retail space, or clout that hasn’t been fully activated. 

We believe that meaningful curation bridges the gap between content and commerce. It allows talent to bring together the brands and products that mean the most to them, and to be able to host (and own) the entire customer journey. 

TLDR; if you’ve got an audience, make a list of everything you’d put in your online shop. And if you want to bring it to life… you know who to call.  

3. If you build it, they might not come 

We all know that even the best, most innovative products need to be marketed. This could not be more true for curated marketplaces or experiences that are novel for customers. 

While your site might have impressive traffic or off-the-charts social media engagement, adding  new product categories requires marketing to bridge the gap. Clear messaging is helpful for customers to understand the motivation behind shopping your collection or even adding an upsell to cart. It all comes back to the “why your brand, why now, and why should customers care.” 

Thousand Fell, the creator of the first recyclable sneaker, holds a better future for our planet at its core — and when it came to launching a marketplace they focused on the “why.” Brands That Give a Damn was their take on a holiday gift shop with purpose: to curate products that keep healthy people and the prospect of a healthier planet front and center. Aligning their merchandising strategy with their company ethos meant a natural fit for their existing customers. 

What’s more, one of the benefits of building a multi-brand marketplace is sharing audiences and being able to capture an entirely new customer segment. One of the low hanging fruit ways to do this is through a collaborative launch campaign, where all brands agree to a strategy to maximize the impact at launch and beyond. While it takes some upfront coordination, it leads to the most strategic launch possible. 

Part of the success of Great Jones’ Pantry Pals can be attributed to thoughtful co-marketing not only leading up to, but in the weeks after the launch. Great Jones took advantage of collab posts on Instagram with Fishwife, Seed + Mill, Diaspora Co., Ghetto Gastro, and Golde to promote the launch of the marketplace. They spun up recipes on Reels and featured founder friends, creating an all-encompassing experience for fans of both brands. 

@shopcanal The new marketplace by @greatjones with products from @ghettogastro, @FLY BY JING, @diasporaco, and other brand partners makes its storefront and social experience even more delicious 😋 #dtc #ecommercetiktok #marketingtips #foodies #poweredbycanal ♬ original sound - Canal

TLDR; don’t forget about marketing when building a launch plan. The best thing about bringing together more than one brand is that you’re combining audiences, so get creative on ways to activate, whether through a giveaway, joint email, or even an IRL event. 

4. Quality is everything  

I firmly believe that curation is built on trust. If you’re putting your stamp on something, it means you’d recommend it to someone and use it yourself. Think about the last time someone asked you for the best pizza spot in your city. You feel responsible for picking a place you’d be proud of sending them to. After all, it’s your reputation that’s on the line.

In a world where Amazonified products run rampant, there is also a desire for craftsmanship, intentional design, and a brand story. While people love a dupe, customers continue to shop their values. AdWeek found that “53% of consumers would pay more for a product that supports their social values,” with pay equity and fair labor practices being the most important reasons for this.

The same goes for curated marketplaces. Simply put, if a Curator says “buy this,” it better be good. It’s why we take a hands-on approach to every brand we allow into our network, grading brands on a pretty intricate scorecard. That way, our brands and talent know that if we recommend it, they can too. It takes the guesswork out of quality. 

TLDR; if you’re thinking about spinning up a marketplace, try out the products that you’d like to feature. It might take a bit more effort, but it’s fun, and your recommendations will be authentic. 

5. Moments matter 

Next year, we’re going all in on social, cultural, and retail moments that matter most to consumers. To truly leverage a unique POV as a Curator, it would be a huge miss to not get in on the conversations and celebrations consumers are already planning for. 

Whether these are the standard holidays like Valentine’s Day and Halloween or niche ones like National Friendship Day and Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re excited at the prospect of tapping into our collective psyche and providing the perfect assortments and recommendations at the moment of inspiration.  

Google’s internal data found that extended holiday shopping seasons over the last few years have inspired 40% of consumers to start shopping for other milestones much earlier in the year. That means the time to start thinking about merchandising your site for the retail moments of 2023 is *checks watch* yesterday. 

TLDR; create an internal ‘moments’ calendar that all teams have access to, to inspire and help drive creative ideation across the org.

As we look to 2023, we’re excited to bring some of these learnings into everything we’re powering here at Canal. Intrigued? Send us a note at

Top photo credit: Brands That Give a Damn marketplace by Thousand Fell and its brand partners

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Sabena Suri
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