Not your grandma’s DIY clinic

The newest in-store experience from Lowe’s teaches DIY home improvement skills through immersive virtual and augmented reality simulation.

It’s as close to hands-on learning as a DIYer can get; users can even feel the vibration of a drill in their hands. But there’s no mess, no fuss and no need to clean up after the session: This training experience brings together augmented reality and virtual reality for a first-of-its-kind skills clinic.

Step into Lowe’s Holoroom How To.

Introduced last month, the latest iteration of the home improvement retailer’s Holoroom experience is an on-demand, virtual reality skills clinic. The simulated experience explores the relationship between VR technology, engagement and retention in learning, allowing shoppers to acquire the required skills to complete challenging home improvement projects while immersed in VR.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs Executive Director Kyle Nel (second from right) was named to The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2016. Meet the other “Disruptors” on The List and learn more about the awards.

“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,” says Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the company’s hub for disruptive technology experiments. “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.”

Customers can tap into training for projects ranging from tiling a shower to installing shelves; the Holoroom How To is currently live at Lowe’s in Framingham, Mass., with plans to debut soon in Canada. All users need to do is put on the virtual reality headset, hold the controller in each hand and prepare to be immersed in a DIY project.

NRF’s Susan Reda spoke with Nel to get the details on the new VR tool and how it’s disrupting traditional skills clinics.

The Holoroom How To appears to be an extension of the Holoroom. Was this part of the vision from the beginning, or is it something that evolved based on watching and learning how shoppers interacted with the technology in the Holoroom?

At Lowe’s Innovation Labs, we use a narrative-driven approach to innovation that uses story as a strategic tool to map out the future we are working to bring to life for Lowe’s. We then work backward to build that future, rapidly testing technology prototypes to solve everyday problems. In our first-ever story, augmented reality solved a customer problem. Today we have seen that story through to reality, and we’re writing the next chapter.

For more than three years, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has been exploring real-life applications of augmented and virtual reality experiences by iterating technologies that directly help our customers. From debuting the first version of Holoroom in 2014 to introducing the How To simulation this spring, Lowe’s has been a leading retailer in AR/VR applications.

We create our proofs of concepts with several hypotheses and aim to learn from each test. Our experience in AR/VR has taught us the immersive nature of this technology makes it ideal for teaching and learning.

“We use a narrative-driven approach to innovation that uses story as a strategic tool to map out the future we are working to bring to life.”

I can recall the opening of a competitor’s store around eight years ago. At the time, the opportunity to key your project into a tablet, watch a video and then receive a detailed printout of instructions was state of the art. This surpasses that by leaps and bounds. What is your expectation for customers’ acceptance and why?

Customers have been telling us they enjoy the experience, but more importantly, results from preliminary studies show it’s an effective teaching tool. In fact, Holoroom How To study participants demonstrated a 36 percent increase in recall of the steps to tile a shower, as compared with video alone.

Are there certain customer demographics that are more inclined to embrace this?

Results from our preliminary studies show that Holoroom How To presents a learning platform that lifts unskilled DIYers to a memory performance level comparable to that of experienced DIYers, suggesting that the platform presents a learning environment that is conducive to newcomers and experienced DIYers alike.

I read “hold controllers” and I instantly think of a customer who grew up on gaming. Still, that could be an age range up to nearly 60 given my recollection of the early Nintendo days. Is the technology intuitive — or does it take some time for users to get comfortable?

That’s exactly right; while technology is evolving at an exponential rate, people are not changing as quickly. For that reason, Lowe’s Innovation Labs uses applied neuroscience to test the technology we put in our customers’ hands, so we can understand their unstated reactions. Our studies have shown this technology is intuitive for most customers today. Holoroom How To has also proven to be an equally conducive learning environment for both men and women.

Once the customer has experienced the How To, how can they take home their learning? Is there a way to download something to their smartphone and re-watch using a cardboard Google VR?

After a customer goes through Holoroom How To and they have gained the confidence and knowledge needed to take on their own DIY project, we also provide them with a list of the supplies they will need, and written instructions to refer back to as a reminder.

What is the expectation for rolling out this technology?

Our near-term efforts will be focused on creating on-demand pop-up clinics that empower customers to learn when they want at their own pace. As with most Lowe’s Innovation Labs prototypes, we will evaluate customer response to this experience over the course of six months, gauging how this technology impacts customer learning and confidence. From there, we’ll determine if the Holoroom How To clinics resulted in better learning retention and determine what comes next based on our learnings.

Participants demonstrated a 36 percent increase in recall of the steps to tile a shower, as compared with video alone, and were 18 percent more willing to take on other DIY projects.

Folks tend to do a big remodel every seven to 10 years, but they do smaller projects all the time. This leads me to believe that the Holoroom How To has potential for broader reach than the Holoroom. True or false?

True. We believe innovations like Holoroom How To will soon enable instantaneous learning moments and massively scalable training opportunities that empower both customers and employees around the world. This could include projects big and small, customized to individual customers’ needs.

As you were in beta with this, what sort of lift did you see in customer confidence after being exposed to the VR tutorial?

Through our early Holoroom iterations, we’ve established that VR can not only make home improvement design easier, the immersive nature of this technology opens opportunities for learning and training. With Holoroom How To, we’re diving deeper and getting to the root of how people learn. At the current exponential pace of technological advancement, expect trade and home improvement education to look radically different over the next few years.

Our applied neuroscience studies have shown that customers who participate in Holoroom How To indicate increased motivation to take on DIY projects — and not just the project they learned to do in the VR experience, but also an 18 percent greater willingness to take on other DIY projects.