What Is an Exclusive Assortment?

The term exclusive assortment refers to a merchandising strategy in which a retailer displays the product line of a single manufacturer. This is generally part of an exclusive arrangement that is set up between a manufacturer and a retailer. In other cases, it may arise because the retailer wants to brand itself as the best (and sometimes only) location for a particular manufacturer's products without any competition.

The relationship normally requires a contract, which establishes the terms and conditions of the arrangement, including the length of the assortment.

Key Takeaways

  • An exclusive assortment is a merchandising strategy in which a retailer displays the product line of a single manufacturer.
  • These relationships arise out of exclusive arrangements between each party or when a retailer wants to brand itself as the best and only place to buy a manufacturer's products.
  • Exclusive assortments are fairly common between designers and department stores.
  • The relationship can only succeed if both parties work out a way to track and measure their success.
  • These assortments provide numerous benefits, including exposure, renewed interest from consumers, and a boost in sales.

How Exclusive Assortments Work

Exclusive assortments, which are also called exclusive arrangements or partner exclusives, are fairly common in many parts of the manufacturing and retail industries. They are prominent in the department store arena, where major players try to differentiate themselves from the competition by partnering with a specific designer. They are also commonly found among furniture retailers, drug stores, and specialty food shops.

Retailers and vendors often use exclusive assortments to build awareness or buzz about a new fashion designer or manufacturer. They tend to create a sense of urgency among consumers who fear they may be unable to find certain items anywhere else. Promotion of exclusive assortments through advertising, store windows, and media appearances, as well as through social media and other online channels can turn specific items into must-haves for consumers.

Both the manufacturer and retailer come together through a contractual agreement for exclusivity. The terms and conditions may include factors like pricing and the timeframe for the relationship. Both parties should come to a consensus on tracking and measuring their progress. Setting up a management system with explicit goals ensures financial success and also lays out the expectations of everyone involved. It allows vendors and manufacturers to terminate the agreement if these targets aren't met.

Exclusive assortments provide numerous benefits for both the manufacturer/supplier and the retailer/vendor, including:

  • Exposure, especially to new designers and manufacturers
  • Renewed interest for vendors who may be struggling because of stiff competition
  • Increased sales

Exclusive arrangements may be considered anti-competitive and, therefore, illegal if the manufacturer doesn't allow the retailer to sell its competitors' products.

Special Considerations

This type of assortment strategy can result in a retailer having both a narrow variety and a shallow assortment of products. The depth of assortment is limited because only one manufacturer's products for a particular line are carried, and the breadth or variety is potentially narrowed if the manufacturer does not make many different products.

Department store chains have partnered exclusively with specialty brands to create limited-edition shopping experiences, including the rollout of pop-up shops featuring a single or select group of brands. Merchandisers at luxury department stores have also offered localized assortments for years, such as developing exclusive cruise collections in their resort or warm weather locations.

With intensifying competition for shoppers’ wallets, mass-market retailers are putting similar strategies into action, including online retailers. Growing competition from e-commerce merchants, such as Amazon, which also offers its own exclusive assortments, has led some retailers to focus on localized assortments. This merchandising strategy requires developing distinct and unique assortments specifically targeting each local market and customer base.

Partnerships between designers and department stores often use exclusive assortments in a limited number of stores for a limited time.

Real-World Example of Exclusive Assortments

General merchandisers are more likely to offer exclusive assortments than specialty retailers, such as Walmart, Gap, Zara, and H&M which tend to market and sell their own brands exclusively. The exception would be a guest designer offering an exclusive collection for a specialty retailer.

Karl Lagerfeld was among the first major designers to work exclusively with H&M. The first collection, which was launched in 2004, sold out immediately. The retailer also announced collaborations with other top designers, including Stella McCartney in 2005, Roberto Cavalli in 2007, and Jimmy Choo in 2009.