Crate and Barrel marries human expertise with tech advances in a new concept store

Discussion
Photo: Crate and Barrel
Feb 06, 2020
Matthew Stern

Crate and Barrel is piloting a standalone store concept that lets customers take advantage of all of their design and decorating expertise and guidance in one physical location.

Crate and Barrel opened its first Design Studio at the end of January in Pasadena, CA, according to the Pasadena Star News. The new location brings the online experience of Crate and Barrel’s design services to its own store, where customers can get specialized help from experts on how to decorate rooms from the ground up, using 3-D renderings and choosing from furniture and décor. The store will have items not available at other Crate and Barrel locations and will also allow visitors to choose custom and made-to-order furniture.

Crate and Barrel marries human expertise with tech advances in a new concept store
Photo: Crate and Barrel

Technology-enhanced services have been catching on in the interior design space in recent years. Retailers that sell furniture are leveraging tech solutions in-store to help customers visualize how products will look at home when purchased. 

In 2017, for instance, Crate and Barrel began piloting the use of a 3-D room modeling solution in partnership with tech provider Modsy online and in-store, rolling it out chainwide the following year, according to Furniture Today.

Macy’s announced in late 2018 the expansion of its in-store VR furniture experience after noting a marked uptick in furniture sales in pilot stores, according to a press release. The chain characterized the deployment as the largest VR rollout in retail history.

Other furniture chains have aimed to put the furniture shopping experience more in the hands of the home user. IKEA, for instance, created an augmented reality app which allows shoppers to superimpose a specific piece of furniture over a real-life space to see how it should look.

In its main store, Crate and Barrel has also been making moves to better position itself against its competitors in furniture, housewares and home accessories.

The chain announced the opening of an in-store restaurant last year, and also acquired Hudson Grace, a home décor, entertainment and gift brand the retailer plans to expand.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will a tech-enabled service-focused store concept attract customers and result in improved sales for Crate and Barrel? What can Crate and Barrel do to differentiate its in-store services at the Design Studio from similar services offered by competing retailers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Sustained differentiation based on platform technologies will still depend on having better people to use the technology and better products to complete the designs."
"This is a good direction to head, but concept validation needs more than immediate upticks. It needs proven value for the long term."
"I believe human expertise will ultimately be the biggest draw. I believe consumers would forgo the technology if the human expertise is beyond that of competitors with tech."

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14 Comments on "Crate and Barrel marries human expertise with tech advances in a new concept store"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a great example of how technology can significantly enhance the shopping/buying experience. The new store concept sounds compelling, but it is only one store. For this to have a significant impact, it will need to be rolled out chain-wide. While in-store design services are far from a new idea, Crate and Barrel can differentiate by better executing these design services. There’s nothing revolutionary about this, but sometimes a well-executed practical idea can have a material impact.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Consumers want the benefits of the digital and physical shopping experiences all rolled into one, which this offers. The challenge will be to educate customers and associates so they can easily use the services and then roll this out to other stores.

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

The future of retail is bringing the experience and expertise to the customer. The reason that someone will walk into the store is to ask a question to a human or rely on the expertise of someone who knows their channel inside and out. Technology will be used as a tool and not a human substitute, that is why there’s still a helper standing by the self-checkout aisles.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Retail Industry Analyst
7 months 23 days ago

Furniture/home goods stores and home builders are prime for leveraging technology like 3-D modeling, augmented reality and virtual reality. We recently purchased a new home and we would have loved to be able to see our design choices in a model rather than put samples of woods, countertops and handles together to visualize what it will look like. And when buying furniture, drapes, wall colors, etc. it is extremely helpful to see it in totality.

This is a smart strategy for Crate and Barrel and, personally, these services would influence me to choose a store that offers these services over one that doesn’t.

Art Suriano
Guest

Crate and Barrel is on the right track here, and a tech-enabled service-focused store concept will attract many customers. Stores must continue to find ways of combining technology along with human interaction. What I like about this program is that customers are not left alone to try to use the technology they may not find intuitive, but rather have trained associates ready to assist them to make the experience pleasant and beneficial. I expect to see more stores investing in these types of concepts, not just furniture but any industry that can find a successful way of using technology to enhance the shopping experience. Kudos to Crate and Barrel, and I predict we’ll see more of their stores with tech-enabled services in the near future.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is a good direction to head, but concept validation needs more than immediate upticks. It needs proven value for the long term.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This sounds perfectly framed as “tech-enabled/service focused.” How do I navigate from my problem to idea to the specifics of a solution? 3-D renderings become the “fitting room” for home furnishings where the customer can look at multiple options and make a much more informed decision than just imagining. This is a perfect example of tech raising the bar for exploring options while shopping and making more informed, and therefore more comfortable, buying decisions on big ticket items.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is one area in which technology can definitely enhance the customer experience. If Crate and Barrel executes correctly, there should be a noticeable uptick in sales, customer satisfaction, and the consequent word of mouth — well, word of social media.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
7 months 23 days ago

The revolution in home decor shopping has been slow in coming. While the concept is very good, it may be too late. Retailers may have missed the window of opportunity before the shift has happened to online shopping for these categories.

Home decor and interior decoration is one area where people genuinely appreciate help. Not many have good eye for color palette, coordination and detail. This is the area where high-touch service will be worth it from economic point of view, because the average dollar value runs into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I like the premise of the store, but I really hope that they didn’t reduce the labor in lieu of adding the technology. I am all for adding tech to provide a great customer experience, but if customers don’t get it I would hope they would have staff to explain it…

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Offering a semi-custom version of the design services typically accompanied by $100,000 price tags for a kitchen remodel is a sweet spot for Crate and Barrel and technology. Sustained differentiation based on platform technologies will still depend on having better people to use the technology and better products to complete the designs. Offering custom services and made-to-order furniture is a good example of that.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

I have personally used 3-D room modeling and also have used Modsy and I believe both are great ways to view what your new home or room will look like! I do think there still needs to be a personal touch from the sales team in-store to help guide the novices of home decor in the right direction however. A blend of tech and the human touch goes a long way!

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

The furniture and home goods retail segments are ideal for leveraging 3-D modeling, AR and VR technology in-store to produce sales uplift and increased customer satisfaction. Oftentimes these are purchases that consumers struggle with in terms of making that final “buy” decision — and technology can provide an immediate boost to their confidence level at making the right purchase.

This is exactly the benefit Macy’s saw with their VR furniture experience. Customers who came to buy one piece of furniture often left the store with an entire room remodel! Crate and Barrel is making a smart decision to incorporate this into a design studio concept store. They will certainly be able to look at the sales data to see how this approach performs vs. other store formats and make the decision to deploy to more stores. I don’t expect this to be something that makes it to all of their stores but may redefine what a flagship concept means to them.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

I believe the human expertise will ultimately be the biggest draw. I believe consumers would forgo the technology if the human expertise is beyond that of competitors with tech.

There are many national and regional competitors offering technology — from simple to sophisticated, to customers, but ultimately no amount of technology can replace a well-trained and knowledgeable customer service sales force. Also nothing is more frustrating than a sales rep with technology he doesn’t know how to utilize.

C&B can differentiate from competitors by positioning their human expertise aided by technology to help consumers make better decisions. Consumers will return to a store looking for the human expert, not the tech.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Sustained differentiation based on platform technologies will still depend on having better people to use the technology and better products to complete the designs."
"This is a good direction to head, but concept validation needs more than immediate upticks. It needs proven value for the long term."
"I believe human expertise will ultimately be the biggest draw. I believe consumers would forgo the technology if the human expertise is beyond that of competitors with tech."

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