Ask @RetailPhil: Crate & Barrel’s New Marketplace and What It Means for Brands


As e-commerce continues to grow, bricks and mortar retailers must find new ways to adapt to the ever-changing retail landscape.

For many years, Crate & Barrel has been a steadfast trendsetter in the Home and Housewares industry. Their carefully curated product assortment fits into any home and is neither too cheap nor too expensive. This reputation for unwavering success is what makes Crate & Barrel’s announcement that they would be launching a marketplace all the more interesting.

There’s no saying if online marketplaces will be next big wave in retail just yet. Having said that, these sort of shifts in a retailer’s behaviour should be noted. Read on as I dig into what makes this announcement so interesting…

An online marketplace is a place where brands are given space to set up, and sell their own products. Think of this like a local marketplace, where the organizers would give brand owners a booth to sell out of. Once set up, the brand looks after meeting the consumer, making the sale, and delivering the goods. This is different from a standard brand/retailer arrangement, where a retailer would buy products directly from the brand and resell it for a profit.

Now picture this: brands are selling their own products, but doing so through the Crate & Barrel marketplace.

Another unique aspect of Crate & Barrel’s new marketplace is the expansion of their shelf assortment. For online retailers, the ‘digital shelf’ is a way to create a customized approach to serving (and perhaps more importantly, retaining) customers. If a consumer is looking for a cup from a particular brand at Crate & Barrel, the shelves inside the physical store may only hold a dozen or so cups for the consumer to choose from. By opening a marketplace, Crate & Barrel allows a consumer to shop for all of the cups that the brand has, while feeling like they are doing this under the stylistic guide of Crate & Barrel. To that consumer, Crate & Barrel’s shelves now carry an endless variety of goods.

In many ways, adding an online marketplace to their business model makes Crate and Barrel so much more than a retailer. The retailer now goes above and beyond just delivering a product selection carefully chosen for the season. Crate and Barrel now has a chance to engage and curate experiences for its consumers online. This also signals a change from being a simple retailer to becoming an online broker of sorts, helping brands connect with consumers directly.



As the Retail Industry Manager at Hubba, Phil is responsible for uncovering both emerging trends and insights that may impact businesses engaged in commerce. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Phil helps brands and retailers adapt to the the new realities of retail and the next generation of commerce. Phil is a frequent speaker at industry events in Canada and the US, across multiple verticals, and is a featured writer in trade publications such Retail TouchPoints, Pet Product News, BikeBiz, and more.