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Lowe's, Crate and Barrel talk digital and in-store marketing and finding the perfect balance – Retail Customer Experience

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What is the best marketing strategy to engage the customer looking to buy products for the home? Attendees at the recent Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas learned perspectives from the home improvement and home furnishings perspectives during a keynote by leaders from two well established brands — Crate and Barrel and Lowe’s Companies Inc.

Much of the discussion focused on achieving the right mix of in-store and online marketing. Both leaders — Neela Montgomery, CEO of Crate and Barrel, and Jocelyn Wong, Lowe’s chief marketing officer — agree a dual strategy is needed as today’s consumers are using online and offline venues to make buying decisions.

In-store focus continues

While e-commerce has expanded for some product categories, customers are still purchasing in-store for products such as upholstery and sofas, said Montgomery. Hence, Crate and Barrel continues to offer in-store events and hosted 75 in 2018.

Homeowners, who comprise 85% of Crate and Barrel customers, continue to bring drawings of home furnishing design plans into stores to consult with store associates, as well as invite associates into their homes, Montgomery said. The company will continue to offer such events as it opens additional locations.

The retailer also introduced restaurants in its stores to further engage customers with its kitchen products, she said.

On the digital side, Montgomery said Zola, the wedding registry, recently arranged a partnership with Crate and Barrel after noticing the number of customers requesting its products. Crate and Barrel barware, dinnerware, bedding and bath products, home decor and furniture are now available on Zola.com.

“It’s been very successful right from the beginning,” she said. 

In addition Crate and Barrel has partnered with Fernish, a home furnishings rental platform, and Goop, a natural health marketplace owned by the actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Lowe’s dual focus

The focus at Lowe’s has been on both the DIY consumer and the professional customer, driven by an understanding of its existing customer base, an understanding of the competitive landscape and its overall company strategy, said Wong.

The marketing goal is make the brand a customer destination and to engage the customer. To accomplish this goal, the company uses data to measure the effectiveness of the customer’s digital journey.

Besides engaging the customer, marketing also has to change customer behavior, Wong said.

“It is all about (driving) traffic to our stores and online.”

One challenge for Lowe’s is to know the arrival of the crucial spring selling season, something weather determines and which varies geographically. Working with its technology partners, the company uses machine learning to determine what customer messages to send to which geographic locations. 

On the subject of technology, Wong said there are a lot of new tools to work with today. Where the company used to work with a number of technology partners, the focus now is on working with fewer partners and doing more with them, she said.

Digital versus traditional media

Just as the right balance is needed between physical and digital marketing channels, a balance also is needed between digital and traditional media to support marketing. Digital marketing channels now account for half of the media marketing budget, Wong said. 

While digital media has delivered new ways to engage customers, Wong said traditional media continues to play a role in the company’s marketing. The correct mix of analog and digital channels varies by product category, she said, and it is not possible to make a blanket statement about this mix.

In deciding what media to use for marketing, it is important to use analysis tools and not emotion, she added.

Discussions about technology always touch on the importance of employee engagement, and this session was no exception.

To improve employee motivation, Lowe’s has focused on acknowledging staff contributions. One way they are doing this is by using actual employees, not actors, in their commercials and on social media. “They should be the hero in that spot,” Wong said.

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