There’s no question that Amazon.com has thoroughly upended the retail industry. Every retailer, from mom-and-pop shops to big boxes, have had to rethink their strategies from the ground up to compete in today’s new digital reality.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s is no exception. And in spite of having many products that are too bulky or require too much configuration to be well-suited to e-commerce, Lowe’s is feeling the pinch nevertheless.
The solution: leverage its strengths, especially in areas where Amazon has weaknesses.
“We are providing solutions to consumers (and our pro business) to help customers along their home improvement journeys,” explains Stephen Carvelli, VP of Digital Technology for Lowe’s. “Customers manage their own journeys how they feel comfortable.”
The notion of a customer journey is central to any modern digital strategy: the idea that interactions between a brand and a customer begin well before the purchase and continue long afterward.
Amazon understands customer journeys as well, but as an online-only player, it cannot deliver the same personal touch that Lowe’s can. “The customer journey includes online, point of sale, phone calls to customer service, and professional services in customers’ homes,” Carvelli says. “A lot of times you’re mixing the digital and physical worlds.”
In other words, Lowe’s delivers an omnichannel experience – another term central to digital strategy, especially in retail. Omnichannel refers to how customers combine multiple touchpoints with a brand into a single interaction, for example, when people use their phones to shop in a store.
For Lowe’s in particular, omnichannel takes on additional meaning. “Lowe’s customers are looking for a guided selling experience,” Carvelli says. “Supporting home improvement projects is not a ‘single item’ issue.”
If a customer is shopping for a single item, the Lowe’s experience is comparable to Amazon’s. However, when that item is part of a project, then Lowe’s differentiated digital experience comes to the fore. “If you buy a single item you’re probably working on a project,” Carvelli explains. “We understand your purchase history. We’re there with you along that journey.”
This project-centric omnichannel strategy is central to Lowe’s competitive positioning against Amazon, as well as other retailers outside the home improvement segment of the market.
Omnichannel Includes Sales Associates
Because omnichannel includes all touchpoints between customer and brand, it necessarily includes interactions with sales associates, as well as installers, delivery people, and customer service reps on the other end of a phone call.
Associates in particular are integral to Lowe’s digital strategy. All associates carry iPhones or other Apple devices, and they can conduct searches specific to their store’s inventory, or that of other stores. In addition, they can assemble orders, arrange for delivery, and even bring up estimation calculators when the customer wants to know how much paint or flooring to buy, for example.
For Carvelli, the associate experience and the customer experience (CX) are two sides of the same coin. “Digital and omnichannel are integral with our strategy and our go-to-market with associates and customers,” he says. “The speed and performance of the associate’s device impacts CX. It’s a differentiator.”
The Secret Sauce: Digital Performance
The fact that device performance is as important for associates is as it is for customers is critical for the success of Lowe’s digital strategy. “Digital performance is important for omnichannel,” Carvelli explains. “The bar is high – the experience must be in line with every other retailer.”
Digital performance is so essential, in fact, that it is a requirement for every project Lowe’s implements. “We are leveraging our operations team to monitor and validate performance,” says Trey Kistler, Director of IT digital at Lowe’s. “This team is helping us to deliver an excellent omnichannel customer experience driven by real user monitoring.”
Real user monitoring (RUM) ensures that how customers and associates actually experience the performance of Lowe’s various digital channels is up to snuff. “For DIY customers, there’s an expectation that the digital experience will be quick and responsive,” Carvelli explains. “There’s a correlation between performance and abandonment.”
Lowe’s leverages Digital Performance Management (DPM) technology from SOASTA to maintain the performance of its digital efforts. “We use SOASTA to test performance at different locations,” Carvelli says. “For example, we simulate what it’s like for customers in LA when our data center is in Virginia.”
Lowe’s uses SOASTA for more than RUM and testing, however. “We leverage SOASTA’s end-to-end DPM platform,” Kistler adds, “and we automate wherever possible leveraging open source such as Jenkins to help drive efficiencies across our development practices.”
Lowe’s realizes that digital performance goes beyond the combination of DPM tooling with more efficient development practices – it actually requires a change in corporate culture. “Lowe’s has made performance part of their culture and has effectively leveraged SOASTA’s DPM platform to deliver great customer experiences, business outcomes, and IT performance across multiple devices,” says Tom Lounibos, CEO and Cofounder of SOASTA.
Kistler agrees. “The one thing to take away is really: make performance part of your culture,” he says. “Performance has to be first and foremost – on every project, on every effort. Performance can’t be an afterthought.”
While Lowe’s focus on omnichannel performance across the home improvement customer journey gives it a competitive advantage over Amazon within its market segment, the real winners here are its customers. “Every part of the process must be quick and efficient,” Carvelli explains. “We take a big box and turn it into an intimate experience.”
This article was written by Jason Bloomberg from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.