What is an Exclusive Assortment

Exclusive Assortment is a merchandising strategy in which a retailer displays the product line of a single manufacturer. An exclusive assortment may be part of an exclusive arrangement between a manufacturer and a retailer, or because the retailer seeks to brand itself as the best location for a particular manufacturer's products. It is less common because the manufacturer does not allow the retailer to sell its competitors' products, as this is often deemed illegal as it is an anti-competitive tactic. 

BREAKING DOWN Exclusive Assortment

An exclusive assortment strategy can result in a retailer having both a narrow variety and 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.

A retailer, most likely a high-end department store, will often use exclusive assortments to build awareness or buzz about a fashion designer new to the store or when a highly regarded designer, such as Tom Ford or Karl Lagerfeld, releases a new collection. Exclusive assortments can create an urgency to buy among consumers who fear they may be unable to find the item anywhere else.  Promotion of exclusive assortments through advertising, store windows, media appearances and social media can turn specific items in a collection into must haves for fashion-focused consumers.

General merchandisers are more likely to offer exclusive assortments than specialty retailers, such as Gap or Zara, 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.

Evolution of Exclusive Assortments

Exclusive assortments, also called partner exclusives, have gained prominence among department stores looking to differentiate themselves from the competition. In 2018, several department store chains have been partnering exclusively with specialty brands to create limited edition shopping experiences, which have included rolling out pop-up shops within their stores featuring a single or select group of brands. These partnerships use exclusive assortments in a limited number of stores for a limited time.

Growing online competition from Amazon.com and other e-commerce merchants, who also offer their own versions of exclusive assortments, have caused some retailers to focus on localized assortments. This merchandising strategy requires developing distinct and unique assortments specifically targeting each local market and customer base. Merchandisers at luxury department stores have been offering localized assortments for years, such as developing exclusive cruise collections for customers in their resort or warm weather locations. With intensifying competition for shoppers’ wallets, mass-market retailers are putting similar strategies into action.