When it comes to linking online and offline stores to serve shoppers better, home improvement retailers The Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. know what they’re doing.
Home Depot, No. 7 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, and Lowe’s (No. 25) have been at the forefront of using their bricks-and-mortar locations to offer added convenience by encouraging shoppers to pick up online orders in stores and allowing shoppers to return online orders to stores. Both retailers also equip store associates with mobile devices to allow them to better assist customers on the sales floor.
“Once we had the Home Depot app available on a smartphone, we wanted all of our in-store associates to have that because we want them to have all the information that our customers have,” says Stephanie Smith, vice president of direct fulfillment and delivery at Home Depot.
“We have six different apps that our store associates use,” says Eric Hanson, director of digital experience, product management and omnichannel integration at Lowe’s. “We arm our store associates with a credit calculator. If a customer comes in with dimensions, we can run quick calculations and show how much product they would need.”
Shoppers have, in turn, responded to these online-to-in-store initiatives.
More than 45% of the retailer’s online orders are picked up in one of its store locations, Home Depot CEO Craig Menear told analysts on Home Depot’s Q1 earnings call last week. Lowe’s, meanwhile, reported in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in April that about 60% of its online orders are picked up in store and 40% of those shoppers wind up buying something else when picking up their online order.
“Because we’ve seen such a huge uptick in the amount of [online] orders that are flowing through stores, it’s a constant evolution of how associates pick them and where [in the store] we store them,” Home Depot’s Smith says. The retailer rolled out buy online, pick up in store in 2011. “We’ve increased the amount of storage available for online orders. That was something that I don’t think any of us anticipated when we started this that it would grow as quickly as it has.”
Executives from both Home Depot and Lowe’s say one addition to their respective omnichannel arsenals has proven to be an even bigger hit with shoppers than the standards such as in-store pickup and return of online orders, and that’s increased visibility into local store inventory.
“[Giving] access to store inventory repeatedly surfaces in customer feedback online but especially for mobile users,” Home Depot’s Smith says. “Customers want to know an accurate count of products in a store so their trip isn’t wasted, she says.
On both sites, shoppers can see exactly how many units of a particular product are available in their preferred store location, and they can learn where it is, down to the exact aisle and bay number. A shopper visiting Lowes.com can even click on a store map to get a better feel for where their desired item is.
When Lowe’s was redesigning its site and app last year, giving online shoppers greater transparency into store inventory was a top priority, Jawhar says.
“If you look at our iOS app, we’ll show you not only that particular store but the closest three to five stores,” he says. “If you’ve ever shopped another store, it will show you that store as well. We’re showing the inventory at all of those locations.”
So how do retailers in the home improvement sector get shoppers to respond to their omnichannel strategy?
Jawhar and Smith agree that home improvement projects tend to involve shopping for multiple products needed to complete a single project. They want to know those products are in stock, where they’re at in the store, buy them and then go finish their project. Shoppers also can talk with an associate to get advice on products and parts.
“Consumers are coming into a home improvement store because they’re not just looking for a light bulb,” Smith says. “It’s about the entire project and what consumers are trying to do.”
Omnichannel offerings continue to evolve as retailers look for new ways to meet shoppers where they want to shop, and both home improvement giants are trying new approaches. Home Depot, for instance, launched a feature called buy online, deliver from store last year. Shoppers can have items delivered to them directly from a Home Depot location within a two- or four-hour window for a flat fee of $59 to $79 per order.
Smith says such a delivery option is convenient to the shopper and the retailer. “There are certain products like lumber or concrete where it will never make sense for us to ship from a distribution center across the country,” she says. “We’ve also found a pretty good uptick with general consumers around things that we put in a box truck, like grills and furniture and holiday decor.”
Lowe’s earlier this year rolled out an augmented reality app designed to help in-store shoppers find products faster.
Jawhar says Lowe’s is analyzing data and trends to determine how it can more quickly get shoppers the products they seek.
“It’s getting more accurate and more precise along all fronts,” he says. “We’ve got billions [of items] in inventory distributed all through the country that we can better leverage. We can do a better job with predictability in the supply chain—with where your product is and how soon you’re going to get it.”