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Lowe's innovation leader talks mission, focus and strategy

Lowe's customer experience innovations is moving at the speed of light, advancing robotics, apps, AR and VR technologies to make home improvement shopping easier and more rewarding.

Lowe's innovation leader talks mission, focus and strategyPhoto courtesy of Lowe's.

| by Judy Mottl — Editor, &

At Lowe's the customer experience is woven into its mission and purpose — helping people love where they live and crafting truly new disruptive innovation.

"Our job is to see the future," Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, told a a standing-room-only audience during a session at the annual Shoptalk conference held in Las Vegas in March. "If you are just improving products or service you'll die. We live in an experiential world and we were sick of scrambling."

Lowe's, founded in 1946, operates more than 2,375 home improvement and hardware stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

As Retail Customer Experience reportedearlier this month, an industry report called the home improvement sector as "Amazon proof," as retailers are enjoying robust sales and consumer activity compared to other retail segments such as apparel.

One obvious reason is the attention home improvement retailers are paying to the customer experience, customer service and how they are embracing emerging technologies.

Yet Nel, who describes himself as a behavioral scientist focused on how people make decisions, noted that while innovative technology is happening every day, some things remain the same.

"The basic OS hasn't changed, people haven't changed," he said, noting a retail customer experience strategy should be focused on improving things that people don't even know they want improved.

"It’s about using stuff and using it in an intuitive way."

Robots, AR & VR, oh my!

Nel, who presented during the session "Emerging Technologies Transforming Retail and Ecommerce," reflected on how Lowe's was the first to build retail's autonomous robot in a 10-month roll out. It's giving AR and VR technology the same level of attention and Lowe's is way out front given its Holoroom advancements. Holoroom is Lowe's immersive design and visualization tool.

The new Holoroom How To is an on-demand virtual reality skills clinic available at a few stores in Boston and Canada.

Holoroom represents three years of developing AR and VR technology to help customers solve everyday problems, according to Lowe's.

The home improvement retailer is now evaluating customer response to the new Holoroom experience, gauging how the technology impacts customer learning and confidence.

But Holoroom How To is just the latest innovation to arrive from Lowe's Innovation Labs.

In late March Lowe's announced Lowe's Vision, an instore navigation app that taps AR via Google's Tango to provide indoor mapping to customers via smartphones.

Customers in Lowe's Sunnyvale, California and Lynwood, Washington stores can use the devices to easily search products, add them to a shopping list and quickly find them in the store.

"Our research shows that helping make it easier for customers to find products in stores not only makes for a better shopping experience, it allows our associates to spend more time advising on home improvement projects," Nel said in a press release about the app. "With Lowe's Vision: In-Store Navigation, we've created a more seamless experience using breakthrough technology so customers can save time shopping and focus more on their project."

Building a strong foundation of tech innovation

Lowe's first partnered with Tango to introduce Lowe's Vision, one of the first apps to leverage the Tango platform. Lowe's Vision acts as a "digital power tool" for customers embarking on a home improvement project, allowing users to measure spaces and visualize how products like appliances and home décor will look in their home.

In August of 2016 Lowe's debuted LoweBot, a robot focused on enhancing the shopping experience, which followed a successful robotics test and nearly two years of research on how robots can help customers. LoweBot arrived two years after Lowe's autonomous retail service robot, OSHbot, aimed at helping solve "common cold" problems for customers and employees.

In mid-November 2016 Lowe's debuted "SmartSpot," a retail experience created via a partnership with software-powered player b8ta to simplify the consumer purchasing process. It claims to reduce customer anxiety due to a crowded product market place and offers a streamlined way to explore curated products and get deep product insight from both digital displays and on-site store experts.

"During the past three years, we have been exploring real-life applications of augmented and virtual reality experiences to directly help our customers solve everyday problems," Nel said in a press release on the continuing innovations. "Our experience has shown that customers are embracing AR/VR as part of their home improvement journey, and now, we are using immersive VR to help our customers learn the required skills to complete challenging home improvement projects."

Such innovations, Nel noted during his Shoptalk session, is now driving forward its 'how to' learning platform which is seeing 40 percent higher retention than do-it-yourself videos housed on YouTube, he said.

Nel views the Vision-Tango technology as eliminating the challenges in visualizing a home improvement project and providing customers with a digital "power tool" for measuring and styling home spaces.

"Change is exponential. This is just the beginning as we’re placing bets in a more strategic way," Nel said at Shoptalk.

Don’t miss the next chance to hear retailers talk about real-time customer experience strategy, success stories and tips for avoiding missteps, including  BEHR’s Sarah Furnari. Attend the upcoming ICX Summit happening June 5-7 at the Four Seasons in Dallas.
To check out the agenda, click here and to register for what promises to be a valuable event, click here.

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.

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