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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why Variety Matters For [Retail] Selection

M c I n t o s h originally uploaded by imapix.
The Flickr notes for this photo state:

"There are over 7000 varieties of apples, but only about 100 are grown in North America. In Canada, 73% of last year's commercial apple crop was represented by just five varieties: McIntosh, Red Delicious, Spartan, Empire and Idared........... and this is a .... McIntosh!...."

Customers like variety. But, they don't want to be overwhelmed. That makes sense, right?

That means that although there's a place for Big Box stores that offer a limited cross section of products, what many customers look for is a wide variety of relevant choices to select from.

In some ways, not too dissimilar from the need for biodiversity to ensure that we have continuity of food supply despite any natural disasters.

Near Arctic, Seed Vault Is a Fort Knox of Food by Elisabeth Rosenthal from the 02/29/2008 New York Times offers a fascinating glimpse on what's happening behind the scenes to create "a global network of plant banks to store seeds and sprouts, precious genetic resources that may be needed for man to adapt the world's food supply to climate change." There's real urgency to the effort because "already three-quarters of biodiversity in crops has been lost in the last century" and "many farms now grow just one or two crops, with very high efficiency." Also fascinating is the open sourcing of knowledge about seeds best suited to specific climate situations that the effort entails. It's truly a global endeavor [and one that probably conflicts with the approach described in Vanity Fair's May 2008 article titled Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. Thanks, Mike!].

I chatted with Wiggly Wigglers' Heather Gorringe during BlogHer Business 2008: Hats Off To Wiggly Wigglers about some of these issues. She told me about the Herefordshire Food Festival and the Apple Day exhibition sponsored by the MARCHER APPLE NETWORK [RHWYDWAITH AFALAU'R GORORAU - Reviving the Old Apple and Pear Varieties in the Southern Marches]. Imagine a festival that's all about tasting different varieties of apples. Kind of like of wine tasting. [Don't you love that there are so many different wines to try out? It's an adventure, to explore and discover new ones. Right?]

Variety matters for selection, including for retail selection. It benefits the retail experience and the retail landscape.

Think of the sea of retail sameness that we regularly encounter wherever we go. So many malls with the same retail outlets across the entire country. It's a boring retail landscape made up of lots of a few stores. I believe that consumers are thirsting for more.

What about local flavor and uniqueness? Look at programs like Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Tony Bourdain's No Reservations or even Flavours of Herefordshire 2007 ["now in its 10th year, recognises and rewards the best of Herefordshire's restaurants, pubs, B&Bs, tearooms and shops that source their food and drink produce from within 40 miles of their business, to create imaginative menus reflecting the distinctive cuisine of Herefordshire"]. They celebrate unique flavors and experiences. It's the variety of marvelous differences rather than the sea of sameness. And it's exciting!

For some stores or product categories, taking a totally local approach may be neither realistic nor appropriate. However, one that celebrates variety - with products unlike those available in the store next door - captures the spirit of biodiversity, improving retail selection.

But, we also have to ensure that variety doesn't overwhelm our customers. The way to help a customer make sense of variety is by "providing some sort of categorization scheme" as Prof. Iyengar explains in Hard choices made easy. Such a scheme might have to do with a brand vision or a mission [e.g., Trader Joe's comes to mind] where passion comes through, making for retail selection, exciting variety and relevant choices for consumers to select from.

It makes sense. Doesn't it?

Related Posts:
+ Trader Joe's - Where Values Drive The Brand
+ The Problem With Too Many Choices - And The Opportunity
+ Are There Too Many Choices?
+ Musings on Choice, Culture and the Retail Experience
+ Lost in the Supermarket

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