The home improvement retailer added augmented reality capabilities to its app and mobile web before the pandemic. The feature helps lift engagement and conversion as consumers spend more time shopping on their phones.

The Home Depot Inc. was more prepared than some retailers to divert more of its operations online when the coronavirus forced many physical retail stores to close and consumers to shop more online from their homes. The home improvement retailer rolled out augmented reality capabilities in its app and for the mobile web about four to six months prior to the pandemic striking the U.S. in mid-March.

“We saw it as a way to bridge digital and physical characteristics, such as size, color, texture and coordinating items in their home,” says Justin Burleigh, vice president of ecommerce and interconnected experiences for Home Depot. “It’s great that the capability came to life before people were at home so much.”

Home Depot developed the technology in house. Home Depot chose to keep the function on only its app and through the mobile web rather than expand to desktop because AR is “best on mobile and a pretty seamless experience,” Burleigh says. The feature is available on the product detail page where consumers can tap “See it in your home with 3D Augmented Reality” to pull up the AR viewer.

Burleigh says two-thirds of its online traffic comes from mobile shoppers, so it made sense to roll out a feature that serves consumers where they already are—on their smartphones. “While it’s been an industry trend that people are shopping on their phones, we’ve seen that accelerate from an engagement perspective during COVID,” he says. “People are really living their digital lives on their phones.”

But the proof is in the conversion: Consumers who engage with Home Depot’s augmented reality feature typically convert two- to three-times higher than those who don’t use it, the retailer says.

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“It’s so immersive and really allows you to connect with the products in our catalog,” Burleigh says. “We’ve seen that AR lends itself well to increasing conversion.” Shoppers tend to gravitate to this feature with Home Depot’s home decor, furniture and, most recently, its Halloween decorations. The retailer did not disclose the exact number of products on which the AR feature is available. However, Home Depot says it offers more online SKUs supported by AR than total SKUs in one of its physical stores.

An image of Home Depot's AR function including a smartphone showing the available options of seeing a 3D product in home.

An example of Home Depot’s AR function.

In addition to AR, Home Depot has an image search function in its mobile app. Consumers can point their smartphone camera at an object, and the app can identify several things, such as the product, manufacturer, size and color. For example, a shopper can point her camera at a light fixture and the search function can tell her all the details about it and find the product in Home Depot’s inventory. This also ties into its other online capabilities that will show the shopper if the item is in stock at her local store and in what aisle and bay she can find it.

“Shoppers are researching more before they go into the store and want a seamless experience in acquiring their items. And those are capabilities we’ve seen increase in adoption,” Burleigh says, without revealing more.

Home Depot has experienced a huge shift to online sales since the pandemic, especially from engagement and interactivity with its app and mobile web features, Burleigh says. More than 14% of its sales occurred online in its fiscal second quarter ended Aug. 2, and the retailer expects to see continued growth online in sales and engagement, Burleigh says. Overall, its online sales increased about 100% year over year, the retailer reported. (The retailer reports fiscal Q3 earnings Nov. 17.)

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“We continue to invest because we know we need to give customers a frictionless experience online so they can find the right item, at the right price and through the right delivery method,” Burleigh says. “That comes from a continued investment from us, making our services more powerful, yet easy to use.”

Home Depot has a backlog of web features on its development wish-list, that it believes are “compelling experiences,” but it isn’t ready to share those yet. For now, the retailer continues to invest in data science capabilities to serve more personalized experiences for shoppers on its ecommerce site, as well as scale the number of products it has available in AR.

The Home Depot Inc. is No. 5 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.

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