Curation As A Service

Posted on Jan 7, 2020

“Where do you want to go for food?”

“I don’t know, honestly anywhere is good with me.”


Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

You and your friend are about to eat, but neither one of you can make a decision on where to go. There are too many options and you can’t just choose one. You spend 10 minutes contemplating your restaurant of choice, but by the time you pick one, it’s rush hour and there’s a long line. You’re upset.

Choice overload is a common problem that most consumers face today.

Choice overload: when people have a more difficult time making a decision because of more options.

We no longer have a few products or places to check out and evaluate, but an overabundance of them.

Both the number of products and our exposure to those products have risen due to our progression to be digitally native. We do quite a few things online now, one of the biggest being commerce.

The figure below from the Centre of Retail Research shows how eCommerce has grown as a percentage of overall retail trade among several nations from 2012-2018. The growth is impressive. As new technologies come about, that percentage will only continue to become larger.

However, as access to products has risen, the buying process has become more complicated. The growing number of choices has led to problems for consumers and businesses alike.

Consumers are now faced with too many choices and with too much information. Not all the choices are good and not all the information is accurate.

Amazon Reviews provide good examples.

ReviewMeta recently analyzed 203 million Amazon reviews and found 11.3% of them to be untrustworthy. While fake reviews have populated Amazon since its inception, the problem began growing in 2015, when the company started allowing Chinese sellers onto the site.

This presents a real problem to consumers who need real opinions to validate a purchase. The increased number of options may often hurt consumers who need high-quality products to solve their problems.

For businesses, this consumer abundance has brought about rising customer acquisition costs (CAC). Below is a slide from Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report showing how goods that are high in industry competition face larger CACs.

In response to this overabundance, many companies are now capitalizing on heuristics. As soon as their products hit the minimum threshold of physical quality and efficacy, companies need to convince potential customers with intangibles.

An example of a heuristic in the buying process is a product’s brand.

Consumers are led to purchase based on a brand’s intangible promises.

As Coca-Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, commented, “A brand is a promise and a good brand is a promise kept.” In its most basic form, a brand acts as a heuristic cutting through the noise of overabundance and choice overload.

But in many areas of consumer goods, there isn’t a dominant brand. Consumers might also be led to purchase based on different needs that certain brands don’t promise to fulfill.

Brands certainly help with easing the burden of choice overload but aren’t end-all-be-all solutions. Choice overload remains prevalent in areas of consumer goods that require high-involvement in the buying process and have immense consumer abundance.

As a result, products and services that help mitigate and prevent choice overload are starting to gain interest.

Take StitchFix for example. It’s a fashion subscription box service. Enter your preferences and it takes care of choosing and buying the clothes it thinks you want. No more spending hours shopping for something that you might like.

Another example of a product that tries to lessen choice overload is b8ta, a retail store designed with cutting-edge techies in mind. Go in and you can browse for the newest and trendiest tech products.

Products or services that are lessening choice overload and offloading consumer purchasing risk can be broadly grouped into performing curation.

Curation: the selection, organization, and presentation of online content, merchandise, information, etc., typically using professional or expert knowledge.

I’ll be speaking to this broad category of consumer products that perform curation as Curation-as-a-Service products.

Curation-as-a-service (CAAS) products fulfill several problem areas for the consumer some of which include:

  • Lessening potential risk in purchasing (i.e. defunct product)
  • Eliminating unnecessary products that don’t meet your needs or standards (i.e. sustainability)
  • Capitalizing on expert knowledge to make a purchase
  • Personalizing recommendations over time through data (micro and macro)

Here are a couple of scenarios where CAAS products could come into use:

Scenario 1

Jane wants to give a well-thought-out present to a friend that displays her elegant taste, is tailored for her friend, and deepens that friend’s impression of her. But she doesn’t have the time or the taste to pick out a present that does all those things. She just wants it done and doesn’t want to think about it.

Existing Curation-as-a-Service solutions: Knack, Simone Le Blanc, Fox Blossom, Box Fox

Scenario 2

Alex has been trying to look a lot more classy since he wants to improve his social life, but he doesn’t have the patience for fashion and doesn’t really get why people care so much. He’s tried to learn on his own by going online for tips but just isn’t that interested. He wants the results without effort.

Existing Curation-as-a-Service solutions: StitchFix, Bombfell, Allume, Rent-the-Runway

Miscellaneous Curation Products

  • Curated - experts’ advice on purchasing high involvement items
  • Neighborhood Goods - a new type of department store with select items and experiences
  • B8ta - a retail store designed for techies in mind
  • Amazon Subscription Boxes - subscription boxes covering items from beauty to toys

Certainly, if you think about it for a moment, curation services aren’t anything particularly new, but the degree and process to which things are being curated for the consumer have evolved over time and continue to do so.

Let’s take a look at the degrees of curation out there.

Filtering —————– Recommendations ———- Autonomous Purchases

Curation is a spectrum and we’ve gone from one end and are getting closer and closer to the other end.


The beginning form of curation is just information procurement and filtering. These services act as ways to get objective information based on your relevant preferences. Products and services include directories, listings, rankings, and reviews.

Limiting the number of options based on consumer preferences is the most basic way that curation works.

Some examples include: CPGD, Yelp, Google

It’s important to call out that a lot of filter-based curation has elements of the other degrees of curation baked in. For example, Yelp and Google use your data to make tailored soft recommendations, ones that aren’t explicit enough for you to know that they want you to do a certain thing.


Recommendations are the next evolution in curation after filtering. Whereas filtering was about providing you limited results based on existing preferences, recommendations usually take those existing preferences to make predictions about what you might like. This level of curation also includes a level of subjectivity when choosing consumers’ options.

Some examples include: Michelin Guide, YouTube, Instagram

Autonomous Purchases

Autonomous purchasing is when the product makes the decision for you based on what it knows about you. We’re seeing gradations of autonomous purchases happening right now. Subscription box services are popular examples. Netflix is another. The main thing about this type of curation is that it requires a high level of trust between the consumer and the product.

You’re entrusting something to make a choice for you. Trust is difficult to build and easy to destroy.

That’s why this is such a difficult CAAS product to make. But if you’re able to do it well then there’s a big upside. People want to make more good decisions and fewer poor ones. A service that saves people time and makes good decisions for them is highly valued.

Some examples include: StitchFix, Blue Apron, CrateJoy, Netflix


These are just a few archetypes with a few examples of what’s already out there when it comes to curation-as-a-service products. But I don’t think we’re anywhere close to reaping the full benefits of autonomous commerce. Just think about a future where you can have something that makes your select purchases knowing that each purchase will be specifically tailored to you and your needs.

Now there may be some people who think autonomous purchases and liken it some dark AI overload who makes all the choices for everybody, but that’s not the point of autonomous purchases or curation in general. The point is to spend less time making poor purchases and more time living a life supported by high-quality products.

If that isn’t nice then what is?