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Lowe’s exec: Mobile to shake off outsider status in 2014

January 17, 2014

Lowe's tries its hand at in-app mapping

NEW YORK — A Lowe’s executive who delivered a keynote presentation at Mobile Marketer’s Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2014 conference yesterday said that one of the big developments for 2014 will be the maturation of mobile.

With touch interfaces on track to account for the majority of traffic at some point during the next couple of years, it is critically important for retailers to continue to progress toward delivering on mobile and not let issues around politics, funding or ROI stunt that vision. An important part of realizing mobile’s potential is having the right organizational culture, according to the executive during the “Lowe’s: Understanding the Mobile Intersection Between Shopper and Store” presentation.

“One of the trends in 2014 will be the maturation of mobile in the eyes of internal folks at brands, at agencies and the media,” said Sean Bartlett, director of mobile strategy at Lowe’s, Mooresville, NC. “It is becoming a real business, and a real part of the experience.

“How do you take what is generally cast off perhaps as skunk-works initiatives and roll it in,” he said. “Whether it is 2015 or 2016, the majority of traffic is going to be coming via touch interfaces, and that is going to upend a lot of thinking.

“One of the advantages of some of the more progressive mobile teams is that over the last several years, they’ve been working broadly across the organization, and I see a lot of the appeal for other businesses than perhaps a more traditional counterpart. This is a theme when I talk to retailers or agencies this seems to be starting to bubble up.”

An interesting chasm
Approximately 18 months ago, Lowe’s created the new position of chief customer officer. Lowe’s also has a CMO and a customer experience group.

These are examples of how the retailer is ensuring it has the right culture to support mobile’s growth.

“There is an interesting chasm between what everyone knows is the right thing to do versus where we are at,” Mr. Bartlett said.

“The most important thing is the culture,” he said. “How do you as marketers, in a larger organization, really drive home the importance of this.

“Being customer-centric is without doubt the most important thing. This is a way of thinking that does not start in Excel. You need to be exceptional in storytelling and identifying those who are friendly to what you are doing and drive that forward.”

It is also important for retailers to not think of mobile as a channel.

“When you talk about omnichannel, you think of mobile as a sales channel,” Mr. Bartlett said. “Then you are back in the siloed world.

“You need to think about it more broadly,” he said.

Efficient commerce
On the mobile Web, Lowe’s focus is on making the experience as efficient as possible for users. Lowe’s offers a dedicated mobile Web site.

“Efficient commerce is really our marching order for the mobile Web team,” Mr. Bartlett said. “A customer has come into the fold, they are trying to get to some information, we want to get them there as quickly as possible so we strip out the clutter. You are not going to see a lot of coupons.

“The site is very intentionally mobile-specific and optimized for the experience for performance and overall usability on mobile,” he said.

One of the ways Lowe’s accomplishes a streamlined Web experience for mobile users includes putting store hours front and center in the store locator feature in recognition of the fact that this is the information mobile users are looking for when they come here.

When mobile users comes to the store locator after hours, they see what time the nearest store opens the next morning and are offered an opportunity to buy online and pick up in the store.

When mobile users search for a product, they see real-time inventory availability.
Users can also check inventory availability at the five closest stores.

Product locator
A few months ago, Lowe’s introduced a new feature on the Web and on its apps called Product Locator, which enables users to search for a product in-store, informs them if a selected store location is in stock and then uses a map to show where it can be found in the store.

Almost every product that can be found inside Lowe’s stores is included in Product Locator.

When it comes to developing apps, Lowe’s uses a mixed model, with all of the creative work done outside for mobile.

Lowe’s has a healthy budget to leverage mobile display, search and SEO to support its mobile Web site.

The home improvement retailer is also focused on enhancing the app experience for consumer and will soon be adding its weekly ad to the app as well as integrating Passbook.

Store associates
Lowe’s also focuses on delivering a strong mobile experience for store associates, with Mr. Bartlett reporting that the retailer does not prioritize either consumer-facing or associate-facing mobile solutions over the other.

“The same user experience and design rigor that is applied to our consumer-facing properties is also applied to the associates,” Mr. Bartlett said.

Lowe’s recently partnered with to boost its strategy around empowering its store associates with mobile apps and services to support better customer engagements.

“In a segment of our stores as you go in now, if there are services outside of where we would traditionally work on, a customer can ask for recommendations about local service providers,” Mr. Bartlett said. “Porch has aggregated an incredible amount of data on providers, and we are working with them to bring that forward for our customers.”

Two years ago, Lowe’s equipped its store associates with iPhones. There are now 42,000 iPhones in its stores, approximately 25 per store.

There is also Wi-Fi and bar code scanners in every store.

One of the benefits of the associate-facing Lowe’s app is a blue button in the upper right hand corner of a product page that when touched turns the user interface into the customer app. This makes it easier for store associates to engage with consumers who are searching for products in store.

In the app, store associates can also see how units of a particular item are in stock and can request inventory.

One of the other ways that store associates can use mobile is to streamline the checkout when there is a long line in stores.

An associate can walk up to customers waiting in line, ask for the last four digits of their phone number, start a cart for and scan the items in shoppers’ carts. Then, when shoppers reach the cash register, they can provide the last four digits of their phone number again and pay.

Associates are also able to catalog experiences with customers in-store and share with them the items that were discussed.

“Really connecting the customers and the associates in a meaningful way is a big focus,” Mr. Bartlett said.

Final Take
Sean Bartlett is director of mobile strategy at  Lowe’s, Mooresville, NC

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