How Homethreads is leveraging data to create a new customer experience

Homethreads' proprietary technology provides customer data to position the brand as more than just another home goods site.

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Antoine Grant has a lot of business expertise, but only recently became a business owner. Since starting with Bain & Company 16 years ago, he’s worked in real estate, education, publishing, and most recently, as a director at Wayfair, where he led the plumbing and hardware division to double-digit growth at the height of the pandemic.

In May, he purchased and became CEO of online retailer Homethreads.

Unlike Wayfair, where you can find almost everything for home decor, Homethreads offers a “curated portfolio of interior-design quality home furnishings at the fairest prices possible.” This requires having the data that gives them a deep knowledge of their customers. That data is one of the things that made Homethreads so attractive to Grant. 

We talked with him about Homethreads’ data-first approach and what he hopes it will let him accomplish. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)

Q: What sets Homethreads apart from its competitors?

A: Homethreads is a total home decorating solution. We’re a retailer of home decorating products, home improvement products and home decor, but we’re built on top of our own proprietary technology. Unlike most retailers, who use Shopify, we have our own platform, which gives us a lot of freedom and flexibility to leverage data and do some interesting things for the user experience.

Q: How did it come to have its own data tech?

A: The two founders were frustrated online shoppers and they set out to build a better solution. One had 30 years of experience in textile sales and the others had 30 years of experience in marketing and working with some of the top brands in fashion and home furnishing. They came together about six years ago and said, ‘Look, let’s build something from the ground up in our image.’ And that’s why they started building the proprietary technology. It was because they wanted to create a more seamless kind of solution as well as being more control of the data. And that’s how it was birthed. 

Q: There’s nothing more frustrating than going to a site and looking for a certain size of sofa with a certain type of fabric and getting shown everything from lounge chairs to sectionals.

A: That’s right. Typically the idea was always the more you show the customer the better. We don’t do that. If you look at the trends with AI, it’s all about ‘I want the computer to search for everything and then distill it down to what’s relevant to me based on color, based on size, based on style, based on price, based on what’s compatible.’ And those are the things that we’re working on. And in the next, six months you’ll see a radically different user experience that leverages six years of data, we have on our customers. Our customer wants us to know about them in order to be more of a curator for them.

Q: What have you found out from that data about your customers and about what they want? 

A: The big kind of realization is that it’s more nuanced than people want to give it credit for. Typically home decor customers have been put into one of three groups. You have the folks who are handy and want to do everything for themselves. Then you have the folks who want somebody to guide them, but they actually want to press the button to purchase. They actually want to maybe install lights, but they don’t want to do demolition or plumbing. And then you have the folks that are like, ‘Here’s my credit card, do it all for me.’ 

Within those segments, there’s some nuance. There are catalytic events that compel someone to purchase. The big ones are moving and having a kid. There are also things like graduation parties. 

What data and technology allow us to do is not just say, ‘OK, if you’re shopping you are in one of the three big buckets and maybe there is an event pushing you,’”’ but to actually understand who you are at a moment of time, to look at previous transactions and see what might be compatible to your space today. 

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Q: And knowing that allows you to do what?

A: The key is relevancy, relevancy throughout performance marketing, email marketing and eventually things like product description pages as well. You don’t need to show the same thing to everyone. 

In email, for instance, maybe you’re doing a certain promotion for a day like Labor Day or have new products coming out or want to provide information on how to redesign your outdoor space. You, being in Boston, have different needs in the outdoor space than someone like me in LA. I mean, you’re in cold weather, I’m in warm. And if I can start to serve more relevant information for your space in an email, then I have a higher likelihood of igniting passion, igniting loyalty and hopefully conversion. 

Those are the type of things that we’re working on now, which is the relevancy piece, the curation piece. How do we make sure that what we’re serving up to you is what you actually would like to see, whether that is for purchase or for inspiration maybe if you’re still in the research phase.

Q: Jim Stengel who was the CMO at P&G 20 years ago, once said to me, ‘You can never know your customer too well.’ And it seems to me that AI is the key to taking that customer knowledge and using it at scale.

A: I think AI is as transformative as the computer or telephone or email. It is here and the folks that embrace it and figure out how to use it in a way that’s not necessarily in the customer’s face, like a gimmick, will come out ahead. Like how are we going to use it in the most proactive and invisible way to solve the frustrations and problems of our customers?  But I think everybody needs to figure out how to actually use it to solve problems.

Q: It’s September and you bought Homethreads in May, so you’re still new to the company, but what’s your vision for it? What’s the low-hanging fruit changes and then what’s the bigger plan?

A: It’s a great question. I can’t give away too much, but user experience for sure. We’re starting to roll out changes for improvements in the user experience on the site. It’s getting the site ready to meet people where and why they are actually shopping for furniture.

The why is the fact that you’re not actually buying a sofa, you’re not buying a collection of products, you’re buying for a space, you’re buying for a purpose. And we want to be the solution for that. Our long-term vision is to get out of the product side, move towards projects, by moving towards the why people are actually purchasing,

Q: What does that involve?

A: For a lot of people your home is what you spend the majority of your time in. It used to be the office and stuff like that, but your home has become, has become your primary social gathering spot. The importance of it has grown substantially since the pandemic hit. Because of that more and more spending is concentrated at home as well too. 

And the trends show that more people are going to start and finish their home purchases online. I think 40% of people within the next five years believe the majority of their home purchases will start online. It’s far less today. To get to that and make sure that we are enabling it invisibly, we have to actually get into their, their mind space.

Q: I can tell you one thing that’s going to happen. I’ve been working from home since 2008 and soon one reason people will be buying decor is they’ll be getting bored with their stuff. Like, ‘I’ve been looking at these paintings forever and something’s got to change.’

A: I think you’re right. I think it will be a couple of other things as well. One is like you say, I’m bored and change is good. There’s also heavier usage of stuff as well, and since you’re home more, you notice it more as well. This faucet and the leg of this chair, you’re going want to change those things out. The third thing I think is you’re gonna be getting more sources of inspiration that become attainable. You’re in a nice hotel where you’re visiting a college campus, you’re at someone else’s home or you see something online. How do you actually translate that into your space?

We’re working on technology that will allow you to take elements of that and see what it looks like in your space. The technology will let you translate what you’re inspired by into what you can actually do.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Staff
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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