The technologies consumers use to shop online are rapidly changing, which is forcing online retailers to rapidly adjust the way they operate.
For instance, a new Internet Retailer-exclusive survey of 1,011 online shoppers conducted by Toluna found that more than 30% of respondents have used an augmented reality tool on their smartphones.
That consumer interest in newly emerging technologies is leading retailers such as Lowe’s Cos. Inc., No. 25 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, to rapidly test and roll out new features, such as augmented reality and chatbots. To better understand how Lowe’s approaches new technologies, Internet Retailer recently sat down with Eric Hanson, the retailer’s director of digital experience and product management.
What follows is an edited version of that discussion.
iR: How and when does Lowe’s decide which emerging technologies to pursue and when to pursue them?
EH: Every technology decision is based around what problem or pain point we are solving for our customers and/or associates. We don’t use technology for technology’s sake. We make sure it is rooted in a problem we need to solve. For example, we’re using chatbots within our customer care team to help speed up the time it takes to get your appliance repair scheduled. The chatbot asks you questions that help you retrieve the necessary documents without having to wait on hold with an agent or call back once you’ve found them.
In our stores, we have 62,000 mobile devices running seven custom-built apps our associates use to assist customers in the aisle. These devices allow our associates to look up product specs, check how many items we have in stock and assist with inventory management activities. These tasks can be performed through the device and eliminate the need to walk to a terminal or station.
iR: Why has Lowe’s rolled out augmented reality tools, such as Measured by Lowe’s, as standalone apps rather than within the Lowe’s mobile app? (Editor’s note: Measured by Lowe’s turns an iPhone or iPad into a digital tape measure.)
EH: Rolling out within separate apps gives us an opportunity to experiment and learn while not slowing down the road map for our main apps. We can try new technology frameworks or user interface patterns and then take what we learn and apply it to our Lowe’s app.
We did a similar thing in store when we rolled out the Holoroom in a few of our stores. We rolled out a new experience in a confined environment and gathered learnings. Those learnings have influenced our most recent AR/VR initiatives. (Editor’s note: Holoroom was a virtual reality home improvement design and visualization tool that Lowe’s tested in some stores in 2014.)
iR: What are the goals of Measured by Lowe’s and Envisioned by The Mine? How are you gauging the success of your augmented reality apps?
EH: The Mine, a premier online destination for fine furnishings and a Lowe’s Cos. company, has been leveraging 3-D technology to enhance its product content strategy since its rebrand in April, and it has proven to increase customers’ confidence when shopping online for home furnishings.
Since rolling out the technology, The Mine has experienced a more than 50% sales lift in products featuring this cutting-edge technology. As of the end of 2017, more than 1,000 products feature 3-D imaging.
In the same vein, Envisioned by The Mine is one of the first digital properties to make use of assets created by LIL 3D, Lowe’s proprietary hardware-and-software-based scanning platform. In the coming months you can expect to see more apps and websites from Lowe’s showcasing these high-fidelity models.
With Measured by Lowe’s, our research revealed that customers and store associates expressed a desire to measure everyday things, yet didn’t have a handy tool to meet this need. The app is intended for people looking to know or record dimensions in everyday situations. It’s not limited to home improvement projects. Measured can easily calculate hard-to-reach places as well as mark points to help a consumer do everything from measure the size of his appliances to confirm that his corn hole boards are set to regulation distance.
Since we launched Measured, we’ve seen great engagement. We’re averaging about 24 measurements per user. And the app was promoted by Apple as an “AR App We Love” in the AR section the Apple App Store. Since this was the first app we launched with this type of functionality, we’re pleased with the early results.
iR: How do sales/return on investment factor into your decision-making processes when pursuing a new technology?
EH: The impact on sales or ROI is always part of our conversations, but so is the impact of customer satisfaction via an outstanding customer experience. If we can use technology to solve a customer problem, we might not see the payoff immediately, but over time customers will see how easy we’ve made the experience and keep coming back to us.