Editor’s note: To kick off the new year, we invited partners from across our retail ecosystem to share stories, best practices, and tips and tricks on how they are helping retailers transform during a time that has seen tremendous change. We hope you enjoy these series of guest blogs from our partners.
Crate and Barrel is known for its high-quality home furnishings offered in customizable colors to fit any room. Its wide variety of products, from couches to waffle irons, outdoor dining tables to Christmas tree ornaments, has a sizable SKU count to match. Each year, more than 22 million customers visit Crate and Barrel stores and 100 million visit its website searching those thousands of SKUs for, say, just the right magnet board to fit their home office renovation.
The problem Crate and Barrel had was that its website’s search engine didn’t make discovering that magnet board easy or intuitive. Shoppers’ searches often returned irrelevant results or none at all, even when Crate and Barrel had the exact product they were looking for, like the magnet board:
Crate and Barrel’s merchandisers had it tough as well. “It’s really challenging for the merchant team to be able to stay on top of merchandising, being so granular and manually updating search terms along the way,” said Aaron Veit, Crate and Barrel’s Director of Digital Product Management. “We have product categories for both indoor and outdoor — all aspects of the home — so it really puts a burden on our merchandising team to be continuously making updates, enhancements, and improvements to search results.”
Send in the ML
As its SKU count continued to grow, Crate and Barrel knew machine learning (ML) could provide the support it needed to better the experience for its customers and merchandisers. ML could improve and guide the connection its online customers made with fitting products, while alleviating the cumbersome workloads that buried its merchandisers.
But its search platform had limited ML capabilities. Personalization wasn’t possible, and there were no merchandising tools to help its merchandisers make better use of their skills and time.
To elevate its ecommerce search to the level of service excellence Crate and Barrel is known for, its Digital Product team enlisted Lucidworks to help. The team believed Lucidworks commerce solution, with its advanced ML, personalization capabilities, and Predictive Merchandiser tool, aligned well with company objectives.
Hosted on Google Cloud, Lucidworks leverages Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) to help manage the Lucidworks search engine at scale through containerized deployments. This allows Lucidworks to develop, test, and release new features quickly and to isolate its workloads. The accessibility, stability, and strong foundation of security provided by Google Cloud, and to Lucidworks customers by proxy, were all top-of-mind for Crate and Barrel.
So Why Do You Need a Merchandising Tool If You’re Enlisting ML?
Why, you may ask, did Crate and Barrel even need merchandisers and a merchandising tool if advanced ML could use customer behavioral data to make decisions on what products to suggest? Well, as Peter Curran, Lucidworks General Manager, Digital Commerce, said, “I wouldn’t get into a self-driving car that didn’t also have a steering wheel and brakes.”
Merchandisers are uniquely equipped to ensure that machine learning is making not only smart decisions, but the right decisions. While ML can shoulder the burden of adding synonyms to the database to make queries more effective or organize search results based on clicks and other customer signals, there are times when the machine needs to be overruled.
For example, Crate and Barrel offers many seasonal items that need to be boosted to the top of results pages during the appropriate time of year. And when new collections are released, they should be center stage to provide visibility into the fresh inventory. This requires the direction of a merchandiser and is made easy with Lucidworks merchandising capabilities.
Crate and Barrel is a trendsetter in the retail space. It invented the vignette display style where products are arranged as they might be in the home, and other companies followed suit. So while ML can take over some of the mindless work, there are times in the customer journey where deliberate choices have to be made. This calculated work makes much better use of a merchandiser’s skills than the time-consuming tasks that ML can effectively handle.
Hit the Ground Running
Crate and Barrel had an ambitious plan of getting its new search solution live on its website in a very short period of time. To achieve its goal, it lined up the right resources, made a meticulous plan of action, and had regular check-ins with Lucidworks to confirm alignment and execution.
The new search experience was ready to go live on its website in just three months. On launch day, with all hands on deck from both the Crate and Barrel and Lucidworks teams, any issues were addressed immediately and everything was smooth sailing.
Better Search Relevancy
Remember the magnet board? The persistent shopper who’d searched for the magnet board three months back had a totally different experience when he searched again this time. Now, with Lucidworks driving site search, his “magnet board” query was met with much more relevant products.
Relevancy also improved for vocabulary that is uncommon in standard usage, but important to Crate and Barrel customers. Interior designers and the like use Crate and Barrel’s pieces to craft their precise vision, to which things like color and fabric choice are crucial. A query for “bouclé,” a fabric woven of looped yarn, previously included velvet furniture in its top results, but now gives the customer strictly furniture in the fabric they’ve indicated:
This improved accuracy of search results allows the shopper to sort by price or by top rated products without having to waste unnecessary time scrolling through products that just don’t match what they’re looking for. It’s a time-savings win for the customer that leads to increased conversions, and a win for the business.
Overall, Crate and Barrel has added a number of new features to its site search that improve the customer journey:
Using ML to process customer signals allows the site to suggest relevant products, and change those suggestions based on changing trends and changing customer behavior.
Typeahead recommends specific products, allowing shoppers to jump to the bottom of the funnel if something catches their fancy and add-to-cart faster.
Query recommendations suggest search terms that are similar to a shopper’s query, but that might bring up a slightly different collection of products, allowing them to discover more items in line with their interests.
Everything is based on stable, secure, Google Cloud, which has proved itself a reliable foundation.
Up and to the Right
Since Lucidworks on Google Cloud has been the search provider for Crate and Barrel’s website, success graphs are heading up and to the right. “We’ve noticed a higher conversion rate,” said Veit. “There’s an increase in add to carts and order value as we are continuing to serve up more relevant items to our customers.”
As it continues to make moves to keep customers delighted and sales increasing, Crate and Barrel plans to bulk up its omnichannel shopping features using Lucidworks’ ecommerce capabilities.
The supply chain uncertainty facing most industries mid-pandemic has made inventory availability less guaranteed. So providing shoppers with the knowledge of what’s available right now to buy online and pick up in a local store, or what can be shipped to them, removes frustration from the mid-pandemic customer experience. Shoppers can shop where they want, how they want. If a customer gets in her car and goes down to her local Crate and Barrel store, omnichannel shopping will ensure she walks away with the thing she needs. (And, let’s be honest, we all need something from Crate and Barrel’s inventory.)
Enlisting Lucidworks and Google Cloud’s help, Crate and Barrel has returned the delight to its customers’ search and discovery journeys through its website.
Watch a fireside chat with Aaron Veit, Crate and Barrel’s Director of Digital Product Management and Peter Curran, Lucidworks General Manager, Digital Commerce about Crate and Barrel’s search and discovery transformation journey.
Interested in connecting with Lucidworks? Lucidworks will be exhibiting at NRF Retail’s Big Show in January 2022. Learn more about delivering personalized search, browse, and discovery experiences.
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