The idea that human beings behave rationally has been discounted since the 70’s1, and it is popularly understood that we humans are most strongly influenced by our own particular biases, habits, and dislike of making decisions.

In retail, this can be good news or bad news depending on how you approach your customer. Choice can be positive, but too much choice can be debilitating; the successful path is often via “curated assortments” (intentionally selected, organized and presented items using professional or expert knowledge), displayed in a visually impactful way, that your customers can quickly acknowledge, understand, and act upon.

Here’s how to get started with a quick 3-step plan:

1. Know Your Customer and Anticipate Their Needs

It’s important to first determine who will be coming into your store, and what they want from you. This sounds ridiculously basic, but it matters. If your customer is a local vs a tourist, a novice vs an expert; an occasional vs regular shopper, the items you offer must be tied to their desires, needs and motivation to buy.

Woman looking into store window

Organizing your products into hard goods or soft goods, cold weather or warm, casual or technical, can help break down choices into bite size chunks. Adding amenities like mirrors, gracious fitting rooms, a place to sit and relax (and stay in your store), a receptacle for wet umbrellas, a way to do research, a view to the outdoors; these kinds of strategies show thought and respect; and can help strengthen your customer’s connection with you and the values you most want to express.

2. Tell Them an Irresistible Story

A next important step is to craft a story around your offering. Sporting goods retailers, for example, often focus on key equipment – shoes, skis, clubs, bicycle, racket – whatever it is that ‘gets the job done’. But there’s more to it than that. There is the feeling you have when you do the sport, comfort, performance, image, style, popularity, price – all of these factors impact an individual’s choice. Rather than just a pair of pants; consider sharing with your audience how they were made, what sets them apart, how they will benefit the user, what image will be projected by wearing them – use props, décor, and signage to get this message across.

Providing critical clues, knowledge and meaning, helps to lead customers down the path of consideration. Most people want validation that their choices are aligned with their values and the people with whom they most strongly feel affiliated.

3. Make Decisions on Their Behalf

The idea of choice is great, and it is always nice to have a couple of options. Recognize, however, that if you present most people with more than three choices, many will choose to delay or avoid that decision2. This is where “collections” of interchangeable products are compelling. Grouping a full range of items intended for a single purpose helps tell a story that offers a viewer a number of possible endings.

Woman working in store window

If the story is “Casual Work Wear”, the collection could be: a jacket, a dress, 2 pairs of pants, 3 shirts, 2 sweaters and 2 pairs of shoes. If the story is “Commuting to Work by Bike”, the collection could be: an electric bicycle, helmet, lights, bell, water bottle & cage, rainwear, panniers, visibility vest, bike lock, bike shorts/pants, reflective fenders, gloves, GPS, tire pump, repair kit/tool, and first aid kit.

Make sense of it all for your customer by simplifying their purchase journey and leading them down a path and you’ll find that their overall perception of their experience with you improves.

Happy Curating!


  1. “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk” (1979) – Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky
  2. The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, (2004) – Barry Schwartz, TEDGlobal 2005. Link

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