NEW YORK — Around this time of year, nearly all retail executives can think about is the impending holiday season. But Zola CEO Shan Lyn Ma looks forward to November for a different reason — engagement season.
"We see 45% of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, and once people get engaged, they start going online to plan their wedding, to set up their wedding registry," Ma told Retail Dive at the Code Commerce conference Tuesday.
In anticipation of the engagement season for Zola and the holidays for Crate & Barrel, the two announced a partnership Tuesday beginning Oct. 1 which makes it possible for engaged couples to register for over 3,500 Crate & Barrel products on Zola. It's the largest partner store to launch on the wedding registry platform, which offers 60,000 gifts, experiences and even cash.
For home goods retailer Crate & Barrel, wedding registries only make up 10% of the business, but they add up to over 100,000 registries a year, Crate & Barrel CEO Neela Montgomery told attendees of Code Commerce while on stage with Ma Tuesday morning. "They tend to be our most loyal customer," she said. "So for us, as much as anything it's about customer acquisition."
For Zola, it's about giving customers what they want all in one place — the company's core value proposition. Using customer data, Ma was able to see that Crate & Barrel was the No. 1 most sought-after brand that wasn't available in the Zola store.
"[Crate & Barrel] wants to be seen where people are planning their weddings with registries, and we want to give our couples everything they could want to register for here," Ma said. "So in that sense, it is a very complicated partnership that made a lot of sense to us because we're not in the business of opening all the stores and creating all the products that they have, and they aren't necessarily invested in all of the wedding planning."
In the future, Ma said she would be open to partnerships where they are complementary to the existing assortment, but she's taking it "one at a time." For example, after learning that camping and hiking equipment were trending categories engaged couples wanted to register for, she forged a partnership with Backcountry.
Zola is in expansion mode this year thanks to an influx of $100 million in venture capital money raised in May. Last month, the company launched a wedding invitation service. It also recently released a gamified, Tinder-like mobile feature that lets engaged couples swipe right to add items to their registry. So far, Ma has noticed it's been particularly popular for couples while they're watching TV.
She's learned a lot about her customers through their digital behavior, including that they generally skew female, are between 28 and 32 years old, are strapped for time and depend on their mobile phones. Customer data is critical to Zola, Ma said, because it allows the business to predict sales and revenue roughly a year in advance. Data on style and preference also help personalize the user experience and recommendations, she added.
For the time being, stores aren't a part of the expansion plan. Seasonal pop-ups, however, have been a successful experiment — specifically one on wheels. In January, the company partnered with the podcast Modern Love to roll out a "registry on wheels," in which the companies outfitted a vintage camper van with a recording studio (designed to collect love stories) and hundreds of gifts from the Zola store.
The idea went a long way in boosting brand awareness, but partnerships with major retailers like Crate & Barrel will likely open up the door to many more customers.