Crate and Barrel Furnishes Its In-Store Experience With Digital

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The specialty retailer introduces in-store tablets to create a simpler, more continuous experience and drive sales.

The modern shopping experience extends well beyond aisle four. Customers are discovering, browsing, comparing, and buying across a variety of touchpoints, and retailers, like Crate and Barrel, are being tasked with delivering seamless experiences.

“Anything that makes shopping with the brand easier we want to do,” says Joan King, VP of e-commerce for the home furnishing retailer.

To keep pace with consumer changes and deliver continuous experiences, Crate and Barrel is teaming up with a variety of technology partners. For example, after learning its mobile traffic grew nearly 30% year-over-year, Crate and Barrel deployed the Moxie Concierge Software-as-a-Service solution to enhance customer experiences across mobile, tablet, and desktop, such as through chat sessions.

King wanted to do the same for the brick-and-mortar experience. She knew customers were already shopping on their mobile devices in-store, and she wanted to find a better way to increase store conversions and recognize customers across devices. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to make it easier for customers to physically shop.

“It's not great to carry glasses around the stores and lug things around as some of our products are heavy,” she explains.

So, she decided to create an experience that was truly continuous. About three months ago, Crate and Barrel partnered with customer identification and remarketing provider CloudTags to run a single-store pilot program—one that would bring the ease-of-use and content accessibility associated with online shopping in-store through the vendor's Mobile Totes and Connected Store experience.

Designing a seamless experience

James Yancey, CEO of CloudTags, says the Connected Store experience grants in-store customers access to the same content and personalization capabilities they would have online—without being forced to hand over personal data through traditional retail techniques like app downloads or in-store loyalty program signups.

Here's how the Connected Store experience works: When customers walk into the Crate and Barrel store inside of the Westfield Old Orchard shopping center—the only location currently testing the technology—they will have the opportunity to either pick up a tablet or be offered one by an in-store associate. Customers do not need to sign in to use the tablet. With their “Mobile Tote” in hand, customers can walk throughout the store and scan product barcodes to gain additional information, such as what colors the items come in and what kind of reviews they have. Shoppers can also search for items and digitally add them to their Mobile Tote to create a wish list.



Yancey says that CloudTags' integrations with Crate and Barrel's APIs, including its search functionality and inventory feed, allow the vendor to deliver clean experiences and show up-to-date product information.

If customers are willing to go one step further and provide their email addresses, they can do one of two things: Send themselves a list of their desired items to buy later or buy the items now. If they opt to buy the items now, they can walk up to a checkout line exclusively for Mobile Tote shoppers and have a sales associate gather their items for them. Store associates can identify which items customers want by simply entering in their email address. Associates also have their own identification cards, which they can tap against the tablet to help Crate and Barrel identify who and when someone assisted with a sale.

Adorning the experience for all

From Yancey's perspective, the Connected Store experience is a win-win-win situation: It benefits the customers by allowing them to have a continuous experience between the digital and physical realms; it benefits the store associates by allowing them to take credit for assisting customers; and it benefits Crate and Barrel by providing insights into how customers are behaving in-store—a “big black hole” for many retailers. Not only is it able to collect email addresses when customers opt in, but it's also able to track what they browsed, how long they browsed, and what they purchased.

It also gives Crate and Barrel the opportunity to remarket to in-store customers and win back potentially lost sales. If a customer emails himself a list of his desired items, Crate & Barrel can send that customer a follow-up email showing him his collection of products. And if the customer opens either of those emails, Crate and Barrel can use cookies to show that customer display ads featuring the exact products from the exact store that he looked at.

But how does the Connected Store experience truly differ from a customer using his own mobile device to scan items in-store or look up product information? Yancey argues that it comes down to social etiquette between the sales associate and customer. He says that sales associates are like “digital sherpas” that use technology to help customers find items in-store; however, having sales associates hold or look up information on customers' personal devices isn't quite a social norm.

Accentuating the results

Since implementing the Connected Store pilot test, Crate and Barrel has experienced positive results. According to CloudTags, encouraging customers to scan barcodes for more than one product has increased in-store checkout rates by nearly five times (12% to 56%), and associate-aided sessions have more than doubled the checkout rate. What's more, these associate-aided experiences have increased Crate and Barrel's email sign-up rate from 26% to 41%.

The brand has also discovered that 10% of the revenue generated via the tablets comes from items that are not available in-store, suggesting that customers are emailing themselves their wish lists or that Crate and Barrel's remarketing is effective. In fact, CloudTags reports that both the open and click-through rates for the in-store follow-up emails are more than double the rates of Crate and Barrel's standard CRM emails.

Still, technological advancement is not without its hiccups. King says that customers are struggling to adopt the technology on their own. “It's not very natural for people to pick up,” she says. She expects better associate integration to help.

And although Yancey says the brand uses in-store stands and video to encourage participation, King says that the videos are “not great.”

Furthermore, she says Crate and Barrel needs to better streamline the back-of-the-house experience so that Mobile Tote customers aren't waiting in line while employees gather their items at checkout. Until these kinks are ironed out, she says that Crate and Barrel will not be rolling this initiative out to other stores; however, the test does not have an expiration date and Crate and Barrel will continue to measure the effectiveness of the technology through metrics like how many people use the Mobile Totes and their conversion rates.

“It's definitely just a test for us,” she says. “We do a lot of tests to try and understand what our customers value, and this definitely showed us that, directionally, they value anything that will make the in-store shopping experience more seamless. So, it validated a concept for us. We're not going to roll it out to other stores until we improve the full experience of using the Mobile Tote.”

But it seems like testing and learning is just part of Crate and Barrel's culture.

“You're going to test a lot of things that don't work, [and] you're going to test a lot of things that do work,” she says. “It validated that it's worthwhile to try and test quickly in order to get innovations out to the customer.”

And with so many innovations rolling out in the retail space, King believes that it will be Crate and Barrel's focus on the customer—rather than the technology itself—that will help the brand stand out.

“We definitely put the customer at the center of everything we do and try to focus our efforts on things that are going to resonate with customers [and] listen to what it is that they're looking for,” she says. [We try to] not ever take technology for technology's sake but instead make sure that we're delivering a really inspirational experience that's seamless and easy for customers.”

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