Photo by Malene Thyssen - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The simple hardware store on Main Street has pretty much been replaced by the big-box superstore selling everything from garden furniture to home appliances.  One of the major challenges of these cavernous home improvement stores is that they are overwhelming to those without a green thumb or the ability to drive a straight nail.  Add to this, they are brick and mortar in a digital age.

For the last couple of decades, Home Depot and Lowe’s have been fighting it out for who will win the female shopper, the hip Gen X-er, the do-it-yourself Millennial, or the weekend warrior.  Most of this has been in played out in various marketing campaigns and periodic in-store promotions.  Lowe’s has slowly been losing ground to Home Depot.

As recently as August, Lowe’s was chastened by the business pundit Jim Cramer in his daily business report (Mad Money on CNBC).  Perhaps due to this type of feedback as well as lower sales, Lowe’s has decided to take a hard look at both its in-store and online experiences.  Their response can be found in a recent Forbes article by Ari Dan.

He compares what Lowe’s is about to do to what Citibank did to banking in 1978 when it introduced the first ATM.  In the coming weeks Lowe’s will be introducing an online tool called “myLowes.”  Today, most home improvement shoppers visit the Lowe’s or Home Depot websites to compare prices, check out inventories or to locate a store … and then they go buy at the store.  Lowe’s wants to change this.  Lowe’s new site will be a “24/7 home improvement concierge” the shopper can use to gain advice or to build a room-by-room profile of their entire home complete with reminders to change the batteries in their smoke detectors.  It will also remember the shade of paint for the garage door when it needs a touch up.  Let’s hope it is as good as it sounds.

Lowe’s has also taken a lesson from Apple retailing.  They are about to distribute 42,000 iPhones to their employees for in-store use to search for products and to ring up sales.  No more waiting in line for the half-dozen 3-inch screws you wanted.

Will this give Lowe’s the edge it needs to gain ground on Home Depot?  No guarantees, but look for more digital experiences from brick and mortar retailers in the months to come.

What other digital experiences could be applied in home improvement retailing?

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