#NRF2020: Crate and Barrel uses digital transformation to enhance company DNA

Crate and Barrel has been around for 58 years but CEO Neela Montgomery does not take the next 58 for granted. “We just don’t have that right,” she said. To the contrary, Crate and Barrel is committed to “obsessing over its digital experience in the same way it has historically obsessed over product and service.” 

Montgomery refers to the brand’s DNA multiple times during her keynote at NRF 2020 in New York City. “We consider ourselves global explorers. We stand for product, quality and service,” she said, explaining that these pillars make up the company’s DNA. 

But the industry has evolved and Crate and Barrel’s challenge is to tell its story “to a new generation of consumers through multiple platforms and different types of media.” The brand invests – heavily, adds Montgomery – in its modern story-telling and content for the next generation, using visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to advertise its products. “We need to be bold, inspiring and courageous digitally, in the same way that historically we’ve committed to other channels.” 

This Christmas season, for the first time, Crate and Barrel did not invest in any TV or traditional marketing. All of its advertising dollars were spent on digital marketing through social media. Its sales statistics were indicative of this change in strategy; 51% of Christmas sales were online. 

Montgomery reflected on the impact of this sea change: “We still have to service the customer who wants to come to our store, but we also have to service the customer who wants ultimate convenience for a frictionless, seamless experience online,” she said, adding that the company is working on redesigning its supply chains and “working on the ‘buy online pick-up in store’ experience.”

Retailers today are armed with much greater opportunity to intelligently predict sales and target customers more effectively thanks to data analytics and modelling, said Crate and Barrel’s Montgomery. “We recognise that most customers start their journey on an online platform,” she explained, “which gives us a much better sense of whether they’re looking for a product like ours. Our analytics is far more sophisticated now than even two or three years ago,” she reflected. 

Montgomery explained how Crate and Barrel balances staying true to its DNA with ensuring it still innovates and surprises customers. They do this through both partnerships and collaborations and utilising technology and digital courageously. 

“Increasingly, a brand is what other people say about you, not what you say about yourself,” announced Montgomery. This perhaps explains why Barrel and Crate is committed to publishing its product reviews and partnering with micro-influencers. “Our brand and product has six or seven times higher engagement through micro-influencers than through our own channels. We want our brand loyalists to be our best ambassadors.” 

In conclusion, Montgomery explained that a winning strategy is to be “clear about what your brand DNA is and be true to it. Be clear on what makes you great and what you stand for. Obsess about your brand DNA but express it in new and innovative ways to remain relevant.”