No matter what the naysayers say, Americans still love shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In the home improvement and DIY category alone, Americans are expected to spend nearly half a trillion dollars this year.
But that doesn’t mean that home improvement retailers are immune to the ongoing retail revolution.
With the advent of online shopping and the ever-changing capabilities of mobile devices, retailers have little choice but to reinvent themselves on all fronts. This may include changing the layout of brick-and-mortar locations, to more behind-the-scenes improvements for supporting online shopping channels and mobile apps.
Even the space’s largest companies, like Lowe’s, are learning to adapt to this quickly changing omnichannel retail environment. But, according to Scott Ross, the company’s senior vice president for information and technology, lessons in changing technology and consumer behavior are coming not just from other DIY stores or retailers.
The company is seeing massive growth on its digital platform, Ross said in a recent interview, but it hasn’t forgotten its roots. Even today, brick-and-mortar stores remain crucial to the company’s expansion strategy, and it’s increasingly learning from other industries to stay agile and relevant to its customers, he added.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the sector of home improvement retail and technology because our digital channel is growing like crazy, but the stores are still critical to our strategy,” Ross told PYMNTS. “We certainly can learn from other industries.”
Building Like a Bank
For Lowe’s, keeping an eye on other players has seemingly been the natural way to stay competitive. The last few years, however, the 71-year-old retailer has increasingly sought inspiration from players in other industries.
“So we looked to our friends in banks and insurance (to see) what they’ve done in the digital channel,” Ross said. “If you think back in those industries, five or seven years ago, the only leverage for the digital channel was sort of account maintenance and viewing, and there were not a lot of service offerings. That really contrasts with the services they have become known for offering today.”
With that in mind, Ross’s team at Lowe’s first set out to build an account page that would allow customers to do some of the things they would go to stores for — namely to open a new customer loyalty account and get quotes or questions answered. Then the company added new services and products to its digital channels in order to build on the account-based features already offered.
More recently, the Mooresville, N.C.-based company took a cue from mobile banking solutions offered by financial institutions and invested in building mobile apps, which offer many in-store services.
The company’s consumer-focused app includes interactive store maps, allows application of digital coupons, extends location-based offers and makes access to product reviews easier. The employee app, on the other hand, enables retail store associates to access product locations, stock data and other information from an iPod.
And the efforts seem to be paying off.
“Our digital channel has really started to grow quickly. We’ve grown tenfold over the past five years, and just this year alone we’re growing 30 percent to 40 percent online,” Ross said.
Life in the Fast Lane
But it isn’t just banks that have inspired Ross and his team at Lowe’s. The company is now in the process of adding new sections to physical stores, which look more like drive-through lanes at fast-food restaurants.
“Customers can make the purchase online, identify the store closest to them, pick it up and do it all without ever getting out of the car,” he explained. “They ride through specially marked lanes, we notify associates that the customer is here and make it easy for associates to find the purchase, put it aside for the customer and bring it out to the car when they arrive to complete the purchase.”
But for Lowe’s, introducing a drive-through hasn’t been as easy as flipping burgers and salting fries.
As the company has added more pick-up and delivery options for customers looking to make purchases both online and in-store, inventory management has become more of a challenge, Ross said.
“Keeping inventory data accurate is a definite challenge and something we’re very focused on,” he said. “We are investing heavily to make sure our inventory systems are real-time today, and to make sure that real-time information is accurate, so that when someone makes a purchase at the store, it is updated through all of our channel systems within seconds or minutes.”
Lowe’s is continuing to improve upon new features, but Ross believes the company is far from graduating from omnichannel finishing school.
Its latest lesson? In an effort to draw more mobile-savvy customers to its stores, the company has recently added scheduling features to the app, which allow customers to plan for delivery, installation, repairs or even get quotes on a repair or renovation from a professional. The company is also looking to offer customers the same advice or instruction they can get from associates in-store via live online chats.
Ross said that the improvements were designed to give customers the ability to complete more complicated tasks and experiences online instead of in the store.
“We want to bring capabilities online that allow customers to handle these more complex journeys and projects entirely online. And our omnichannel journey to do that seamlessly and efficiently is never-ending.”
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The PYMNTS.com Omnicommerce Tracker™, powered by Vantiv, features industry-spanning research and insights that arm retailers with data to make smarter decisions for enabling omnichannel commerce.