Furniture titans face off with multichannel tactics despite housing crisis
Pottery Barn distributes 140 million catalogs a year; Crate & Barrel catalogs are available online
Crate & Barrel uses the platforms to promote sales and contests as well as respond to customer complaints. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Pottery Barn boasts a YouTube channel featuring hundreds of videos, ranging from how-to demonstrations to tours of people's homes. "YouTube is the second most used search engine, so I don't think it's ever a bad idea to have a branded channel," Henderson says. "They've also been smart about the content. It isn't just advertising but lifestyle content, which is a nice touch."
Henderson says Pottery Barn clearly looks to have an online presence that is as rich as that of its physical stores. "If you want to be in the right place at the right time, you have to be in a lot of places a lot of the time," he says.
Both companies also rely upon email marketing to promote special offers and seasonal products. Each effectively uses top design and photography to communicate its brand offerings, says John Murphy, president of ReachMail, an email marketing services company based in Chicago.
"Pottery Barn communicates a very welcoming, relaxed, and definitely premium-upscale offering," he says. "Crate & Barrel communicates quality products with good design and good value. They feel closer to an Ikea than Pottery Barn."
Meanwhile, Crate & Barrel does a better job of linking its email communication to specific landing pages, says Murphy. For example, a recent email promoting a sale on cutlery brought the recipient directly to that section of the retailer's site.
By contrast, an email from Pottery Barn promoting free shipping on pillows did not bring the customer directly to the relevant page. "They had an interesting, clear subject with copy that drew the eye to the main offer and compelled you to click," Murphy says. "But when you clicked, there were no pillows. First you see throws, and then the next page pillow covers, and only after you get to the fourth page did you get to pillows."
Murphy adds, "The golden rule of e-commerce — don't irritate your customers — was violated here."
Despite that fumble, he gives Pottery Barn props for its email opt-out strategy. Consumers who click to opt out are first greeted with a message asking if they'd instead like to receive fewer emails. "We understand how daunting a full inbox can be," the message says.
"On the opt-out, you get to limit the volume, which is a good move," Murphy says. "There are few retailers who are handling opt-out successfully. Crate & Barrel just lets you opt out, and that's that."
Still, he says, he'd like to see both retailers allow for more tailoring of email communication. In each case, he says, messages could be more personalized.
"You have to spend money on staff and systems to do it right, but neither one of these companies is a small player," Murphy says. "There are no excuses for these companies not to be doing it."
Pottery Barn clearly continues to take an aggressive approach to direct and digital marketing. Meanwhile, smaller rival Crate & Barrel is no slouch, particularly when it comes to creating a user-friendly shopping experience online (including email communications) that reflects positively on the brand overall. Still, it is Pottery Barn's extensive multichannel strategy — including its still-strong catalog business and extensive social media footprint — that edges it slightly ahead of the competition.