Consumers want convenience. They want to shop for anything, anytime, anywhere. In a 2016 Kantar Retail study, around 46 percent named convenience as the number one driver behind their recent online purchases. But physical retailers are still important. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers who purchase products online like to visit a store before or after the online purchase.
The role of digital in home improvement shopping continues to grow. Prior to a trip to the store, many home improvement customers want to research merchandise online, read product reviews, search for coupons, shop for products and more. The number of people who research merchandise and check in-store availability online made the most significant gains.
How omni-channel marketing addresses common pain points
The home improvement industry is helping lead the way in omni-channel marketing growth.
Omni-channel marketing is all about informing customers, providing service and creating convenience. If you’re building experiences across numerous channels to support other efforts, make sure you identify the customer needs you are trying to address. What are their pain points? Is your solution viable? How will your solution make your customers’ experiences, purchase decisions and actual purchases as seamless as possible?
While the role of digital marketing in pre-planning is huge, there are still some online customer pain points:
- When customers walk down the aisle in a store, they can see the full-size product. But when they look online, it can be difficult to tell dimensions.
- Inventory availability and pricing are not always easy to access online.
- Customers may not know where online products are located in-store.
Eric Hanson, director of digital experience, product management and omni-channel integration at Lowe’s Home Improvement, wanted to remedy these pain points. So, when Lowe’s considered its recent site redesign for Lowes.com, it focused heavily on supporting consumers, even when they weren’t physically in-store.
The team devised several solutions:
- Now, Lowe’s displays much larger product imagery on the site to help customers.
- The site redesign made inventory availability and pricing big and bold.
- Lowe’s put store locations and product aisle locations on product pages to make it easy for customers to find products in-store. This tied together their online experience and in-store experience.
For Lowe’s, the spring season represents another pain point. It’s the home improvement retailer’s busiest time of the year, especially in the lawn and garden section. That’s why Lowe’s rolled out a mobile point-of-sale device in 50 stores. The move allowed associates to help customers outside the store, scan their credit card and print or email a receipt. This tool not only solved associates’ need to better help customers, but also customers’ need for a quicker and easier experience.
Lowe’s also created the MyLowe’s program to help customers keep track of receipts. Instead of having a junk drawer full of receipts, customers can scan a key fob or phone number and digitally log all purchases made.
“If you have something like a washing machine or hot water heater that has a multi-year warranty on it, you want to know when you bought it,” Hanson said.
In the last five years, Lowe’s also established apps for iOS, Apple devices and Android devices, as well as wearable apps for iOS and Android, as their usage rose. To further improve the customer experience, Lowe’s considered the store associate experience.
“We empower our store associates to help customers in-aisle by using digital technology,” Hanson said.
Lowe’s now has 62,000 iOS devices in the hands of its store employees, who use associate-specific apps to help customers and make their own jobs easier.
Challenges for home and building brands
Despite the success of brands like Lowe’s, the home and building industry faces unique challenges when it comes to online shopping including:
- Delivery – One of the many challenges for home and building brands and retailers is the size and variety of products that are sold. Unlike Amazon, for which UPS or FedEx can deliver purchases directly to someone’s doorstep, Lowe’s and other home improvement companies sell hard-to-ship items like refrigerators, washing machines, 16-foot boards, 50 lb. concrete sacks, etc. “We’re sometimes limited in how we can fulfill items,” Hanson said. “We can’t send you a refrigerator via UPS, but we have trucks that can deliver.” Lowe’s customers can schedule delivery times online.
- Big projects – In a sense, going to a home improvement store is similar to going to the grocery store. If you have a recipe you’re excited to try out, you go to the grocery store to buy all of the ingredients to create the finished product. Often, customers come to Lowe’s when they’re shopping for a DIY project, so they’re looking for multiple items or a specialty item. The challenge for the retailer is connecting the dots and simplifying the shopping experience. An effective omni-channel approach can help make that experience more continuous.
Why brick and mortar stores are still important
Physical stores provide a sense of comfort for consumers. Unlike online shopping, in-store shopping allows customers to see, touch and feel products. They know exactly what they’re getting and can take it home immediately. For big-ticket items, seeing a product in-person can make a difference. That’s why consumers value buying from a retailer that has an in-store presence, not just online. They know that if they order something online, they can return it in-store. They also value the human element and in-store experience that only a physical location can provide.
The future of omni-channel marketing
Further personalizing and defining the user experience will be the driving force behind omni-channel retail growth.
“People want to shop in a place where everyone knows their name,” Hanson said. “We can do it digitally, but is there a way to extend that into the store and beyond?”
A lot of retailers will try to do that in the coming years. And to succeed, they’ll have to anticipate customer needs.
“Right now, we’re reacting to market forces, but I want to be proactive and provide solutions before customers know they need them,” Hanson said.
Hanson said he wants to get to the point where after five months, Lowe’s customers can be alerted that they need a new fridge filter, instead of scrambling to buy a new one once the red light is activated. Perhaps a customer purchased items in-store for a home improvement project but forgot one or two things. Hanson hopes to find a way to predict those customer projects and know the exact products they will need.
It took 75 years for 100 million users to adopt the telephone, seven years for the internet to accomplish the same feat, and just under 2.5 years for Instagram to reach the milestone (Business Insider). One thing is clear: technology is changing and becoming more integrated in our daily lives, and it’s making moves more quickly than ever. Home improvement retail has to keep up.
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