Do you know how many different types of toothpaste are offered in the average grocery store?  A recent Consumer Reports article said 27 — and that’s just under the Crest brand. Colgate added another 25. It’s no wonder that their survey of subscribers shows that 36% of those responding said they were overwhelmed by the information they had to process to make a buying decision.

A good specialty shop simplifies life for the consumer by editing choices down to a reasonable number.  Traditional retailing wisdom would say that for every product line, you should do this by offering a “good, better and best” option — but that price-based approach is not necessarily the best way to determine your product mix. Often a store knows the price point that is most attractive for its clientele, so it isn’t necessary to offer three different ranges.

How do you determine your product selection?  Let’s look at candles as an example.  It’s important to cover the basics, or “bread and butter” items (don’t you love retail terms like that?).  White tea lights, votives, tapers, and pillars would fall into this category.  And perhaps you’d like to also offer these candles in a range of solid colors, learning as you go which ones are the most popular in your area and concentrating on those.

After you’ve stocked the basics, you’ll of course have a wide range of other options. Should you go into one line and carry almost every product? That to me comes back to the toothpaste example.  I think it is better to work with a knowledgable sales rep to bring in the best sellers of a line, for example three different products in the six best-selling scents.  This will make for a great display, and offer customers many options — but not too many.  Adding several other lines, edited this way, will give you a nice selection of candles.

The opposite of too many options is of course too few. I’ve been in a number of shops where the selection is so carefully edited that you can see the whole inventory at one glance. The delight of serendipity is missing in these stores, as is the consumer’s ability to select from a satisfying range of options. As in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s important not to have too many choices, or too few — you want your merchandise selection to be just right

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder 

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