Curation: Your Brand's New Secret Sauce

Sabena Suri
November 1, 2022
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We’ve all read the headlines: the world of online shopping is crowded, and it’s only getting moreso. With new brands launching every day and 30,000 new cpg products launching every year, it becomes much harder to stand out and remain relevant in the eyes of customers.

Then you have the usual operational hazards associated with running a brand. With 43% of retailers struggling to manage inventory, 31% struggling with profitability goals, and once-upon-a-time DTC darlings like Haus shutting down, it can seem dire.

But at Canal we see these challenges as opportunities. In fact, it’s kind of our ethos. We believe the future success of DTC brands is right in their own hands — the ability to create new collections and sell new products without taking on new inventory or investing in R&D.

We call these curated marketplaces. The best marketplaces bring together the products from third party brands that complement a brand’s first-party products and offer customers a way to discover new products in a compelling environment. This positions brands as a destination and gives shoppers a reason to return, again and again.

 The best part? These marketplaces don’t add to your operational load since brand partners fulfill orders on your behalf without impacting the customer experience.

Just look at the success of Fellow’s premium coffee marketplace with hand-picked roasters, Great Jones’ ‘Pantry Pals’ featuring the brand’s favorite products to complement their bright pots and pans, and Andie’s Fall Edit to round out their cozy loungewear. Our curation team helped these customers build amazing experiences and I’d love to tell you how we did it. 

What is curation?

The definition of curation is “the action or process of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition.” Originally a term mostly reserved for museums, we’re bringing it into the world of software where we believe the result of curation is a delightful experience.

Think about sitting down at a restaurant with a large menu. The more options you’re presented with, the harder it is to make a choice (if you want to nerd out with me, check out Barry Schwartz’s experiment on choice paralysis). Now think about a restaurant with an intentionally small menu featuring fresh offerings with ingredients from local farms. When it comes time to order, you almost feel like you can’t make a bad choice — so you pick what sounds good, and you enjoy your meal that much more.

Similarly, Canal offers a “menu”  of the freshest products to sell online (our curated network) and brands use this menu to deliver delightful experiences to their customers.

Curation and ecommerce

Curation is important in many settings, but especially in the busy, bustling world of ecommerce where there are “endless aisles” of purchase options. This can cause frustration, “scrolling fatigue,” less confident customers, and yes, the loss of a sale. 

The irony is, shoppers don’t want more products to consider, but they also don’t want fewer.  They want more of the right products. Because, even though there are 30,000 new cpg products every year, over 30% of consumers are actively looking for new products to try. That’s a big number.

Curation is the best way to direct the demand for “more of the right products, right where I am.” 

Heritage brands like Pepsi are curating from their selection of native products to become more relevant while newer brands we work with are curating products from our network to hit on that customer desire for discovery and experimentation. 

What is curation at Canal?

Unless you’re a major retailer with an army of buyers and world class technology team, curating products from partners and selling them online is intimidating. In addition to figuring out ecommerce integrations, you have to individually vet each potential partner and their products. 

That was before Canal.

Today, high-growth brands can adopt world class curation without building out teams of buyers, merchandisers, and technologists. There are two parts of Curation at Canal that support this: our curated network and our best-in-class curation services.

Curation as a network

Our curated network called Discover lets our customers browse vetted, value-driven brand partners and send proposals to them for the products they want to sell.

To build this network, our curation team identifies exceptional brands that make great products and invites them to join Canal as a supplier. We prioritize newer brands with original founding stories, integrous company values, quality products, and high standards for customer experience.

To scale curation and prevent bias, we have a 100-point scorecard that we grade each potential supplier with. 

Each line item in the scorecard has a different amount of points. For example, a “unique founding story” carries more weight than “high resolution product imagery” since we want to prioritize brands with strong intentions over those with strong websites. Of course, it’s ideal if they have both and these become our shortlisted brands. 

What’s the secret sauce in how we select suppliers and products for the network? 

A few categories and line items in the supplier scorecard include:

  • Brand Ethos - B Corp certification
  • Brand Ethos - small batch
  • Brand Ethos - minority-founded
  • Website Experience - unique founding story on website
  • Website Experience - high resolution product imagery
  • Product - product price point
  • Product - product review average
  • Customer Service - free shipping (above a certain threshold)
  • Customer Service - warranty or guarantee for products
  • Partnerships - brands we know want to sell this product
  • Partnerships - brands we know might be interested in selling this product

This last item ties into the second role of curation at Canal: curation as a service. If we are providing curation services to an influential brand that wants to partner with a specific supplier, that supplier will receive more points than others. In other words, we know there’s demand for that supply.

Curation as a service

Curation as a service is when we pitch curation ideas to brands — like a collection of products from various partners — and help them connect with these partners. We like to describe ourselves as brand matchmakers, connecting brands who want their products to gain distribution with brands looking to build out their product catalogs. When both opt-in to a partnership, it’s a #match! 

Sometimes we curate products from the network, other times we hunt for new products that would be the perfect fit. The brands that supply these products go through the same scorecard mentioned above to determine whether they’re right for the network or just for the brand we’re offering curation services to.

We aspire to automate some of this within Canal in the future. 

Imagine selecting an ecommerce partnership initiative (marketplace build, bundle enhancement, seasonal popup) or goal (higher AOV, higher LTV, incremental revenue) and having Canal curate a collection for you to merchandise in seconds, based on data-driven recommendations to optimize performance.

Filters exist within Discover to help brands quickly identify partners with specific values in specific product categories. While this is enough for brands that are building on top of existing initiatives, or for creators who are doing single product drops, brands with larger aspirations appreciate personalized expertise — and we love to give it to them.

Today, we provide the following curation services:

  • Curation discovery: brainstorming sessions with me and my team to identify the right curation for the goal
  • Supplier lists: a list of potential brand partners in and outside of Discover
  • Curation strategy: brand and product level assortment; merchandising and placement recommendations

Recently, we provided some of these services to Great Jones. 

To successfully launch its food marketplace called Pantry Pals, we collaborated with the Great Jones’ team on curation. They brought a list of suppliers they wanted to partner with and we recommended more suppliers to help round out their collection. We also helped them onboard all of their suppliers to Canal for a seamless experience.

Join our curated network

Leveraging trust to delight and inspire is the goal of curation. With that north star in mind, our role as a curation team is to make partner discovery and product selection more delightful for brands so they can make online shopping more delightful for customers.

Unlike dropshipping platforms that take an ungated approach to surfacing third-party products to sell online, we’re focused on curating the best products from the best brands and vetting for quality so you don’t have to. We believe this is pivotal in powering the new inventory layer of ecommerce and would love to help you curate your ideal marketplace, collection, or collab.

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Sabena Suri
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