Simple can be great.
Lowe’s launched the Lowe’s Innovation Labs in June 2014. The Labs uses a method known as sci-fi prototyping to explore new customer experiences, such as customers walking into a Holoroom to visualize flooring in a virtual replica of their home, or customers talking to OSHbot, the Lowe’s robot assistant to learn where lawn mowers are located in the store. Lowe’s is exploring the technological and UX frontier for retail shopping, and it is incredible.
But are there simpler, and less expensive ways to improve customer experience in our digital age?
Identify the pain points of the Lowe’s shopping experience through user research, then design a new customer experience based on an emerging technology.
Part 1: Ethnography
I visited the Lowe’s store on East Arques Avenue in Sunnyvale, CA.
I spent an hour observing customers and sales assistants. I listened in as sales assistants answered customers’ questions, and I asked my own questions pretending to be shopping for a washing machine and a consumer report booklet. I wrote everything down. Here are a few of my notes:
12:47 pm — There are shopping carts everywhere. Lowe’s must not have anyone outside to organize them. The carts are food shopping cart size. I had expected IKEA carts without sides to accommodate large boxes. None of the people in the parking lot are pushing carts. Maybe most shoppers come in for just one or two items.
12:58 pm — There is so much stuff here. The aisle signs are such a dark blue, it’s hard to read them. Products on the shelves are so close together with too many different labels. There are aisles, there are product clusters, and there are baskets of items in the aisles. The aisles seem to go to the ceiling. It’s hard to orient myself when I can’t see above or behind the aisles. It’s like walking through a city and being unable to form a mental map of how it’s organized.
1:21 pm — I told the Lowe’s employee my size and price requirements for a washing machine. He suggested I do a filter search online to find a good one. I’m always surprised and interested when a person suggests I use technology over their expertise. It’s not a bad thing, just a testament to what a powerful tool technology can be.
1. Store Layout
The store’s layout makes it very difficult to find items.
2. Customer Intent
Most customers buy one or two things. They‘re not filling up carts to furnish and decorate entire rooms like they might do at IKEA.
3. Product Display
The amount of information displayed with the products makes it very difficult to know what is important.
Part 2: User Interviews
I used the 3 insights to prepare interview questions for the Lowe’s customers and sales assistants.
“What brought you into Lowe’s today?” (follow-up questions as needed — why do you need that, what do you need that for?)
“Has a Lowe’s employee helped you out with anything, and if so, what?
Did you do any research before coming into Lowe’s today? What type of research did you do?
The insights from the interviews were similar to those from the ethnography. A reoccuring user problem is finding items in the store. 4 out of the 10 customers interviewed said they asked a Lowe’s employee where something was. 2 of the 3 sales assistants confirmed that the most popular question they were asked was, “Where is something?” I decided this was the problem to focus on — making it easier for customers to find items in the store.
Part 3: Secondary Research
The final step of user research was researching how Lowe’s currently combats the problem.
Lowe’s does a terrific job of hiring sales assistants to cover different areas of the store so a customer never has to go far for help. Several customers interviewed commented on how many Lowe’s sales assistants there were to help. It makes a great impression on customers, but it’s expensive for the company’s bottom line.
Lowe’s knows this and has been exploring replacements to sales assistants. Recently the retail chain tested OSHbots, robot assistants created by Lowe’s Innovation Labs and the Silicon Valley tech company, Fellow Robots, at Orchard Supply Hardware stores in San Jose. The robots’ primary function is to direct customers to products and provide real-time information about product inventory and sales.
Lowe’s has also explored less expensive ways to help customers find items in their stores. Their phone app includes a shopping list maker under “Tools.” When a user adds a product to a list, the product’s aisle location automatically appears next to it with a link to its location on a floor plan map. I’ve explored the feature’s user flow below.
Mobile App: Current User Flow
Part 4: Sketching
Next, I began sketching an improved user flow based on the insights from my user research and evaluation of the current app.
None of the 20+ customers I observed in the store were using the Lowe’s mobile app. Lowe’s is missing out on the opportunity to provide customers with real-time assistance, capture customer data, and provide product deals.
It takes too many steps to find the Quick List feature in the current mobile app. It’s an important feature; it should be easier to find.
The Aisle/Bay # affordance to the right of the line item has no indicator that it reveals more information upon selection.
There is no marker on the floor plan map indicating the user’s location. The addition of such a marker would make it easier to find products in the store.
Below is an improved user flow based upon the problems with the current app.
Part 5: Wireframes
Emerging Tech and Consumer Trends in the New App
GPS Locator — The phone’s GPS recognizes that the user is inside of a Lowe’s store.
Push Notifications — After recognizing that the user is inside of a Lowe’s store, the Lowe’s app sends a push notification (Pandora feature), suggesting the user open their Lowe’s app to instantly locate products they’re shopping for. The notification encourages more customer to use the Lowe’s app while in the store, which is advantageous for reducing labor costs, obtaining data about customer purchases, and sending ads and real-time product deals.
Google Indoor Maps API — The API gives the user access to a floor plan map of the Lowe’s store. The map’s visual style and interaction model is more familiar to users than the Lowe’s map. *The Lowe’s Map is pictured below though because Google has not yet mapped the Lowe’s interior .
Bluetooth Beacon — Thanks to Bluetooth beacon technology, the user can see a marker representing their location in the store as they move around. This makes the floor plan map more useful. Beacon hardware needs to be installed in Lowe’s stores.
The wireframes below are revised versions of my sketches. They communicate the intended user experience for the updated Shopping List feature.
Part 6: Usability Test & Summary
The next step in the design process is a usability test. I did not perform this step, but the protocol is showing a potential Lowe’s customer each wireframe screen, and asking them how they expect to interact with it and what they expect to see on the next screen. It’s also very important to ask general questions about the product idea, such as “Would it be helpful to get the push notification about opening the app?” and “Can you imagine using the shopping list feature inside the store?” The designer needs to do several usability tests and then iterate the wireframes based on lessons learned. The designer also needs to study the data analytics for current usage of the Lowe’s app and its Quick List shopping feature. From a technical standpoint, the Lowe’s team needs to test all types of phones with different hardware chips because of the feature’s use of GPS technology. The team also needs to partner with the Google Indoor Maps team to take advantage of the Maps API, and needs to purchase the Bluetooth beacons.
The redesigned shopping list takes advantage of consumer trends and emerging technologies to update the most important Lowe’s mobile experience. The customers’ problem is simple — finding products in the store. The solution can be just as simple. The redesigned shopping list feature I’m proposing takes advantage of Google mapping API and Bluetooth beacon technology. Its use of the Pandora-style push notification will increase usage of the Lowe’s mobile app, which is necessary for the feature and great for customer data tracking and sales promotion.
The solution is easy to scale. I suggest the following steps for its roll-out.
I propose a pilot launch in midtown San Jose at the Orchard Supply Hardware stores where OSHbot was tested, so the Lowe’s team can compare the customer experience locating items with OSHbot to the Lowe’s mobile app experience.
Beacons need to be installed inside of the Orchard Supply Hardware stores.
Sales associates need to be trained on how to use the app feature. They will stand by the doors to welcome customers and suggest they download the Lowe’s mobile app to find items in the store.
A large banner will hang over the entryway reading, ‘Not sure where something is in the store, use your Lowe’s mobile app. It’s the fastest way to find out!’
Sales associates will be trained so that if a customer asks where something is, they’ll tell the person where it is and afterwards, pull out their phone to show them how they can use the Lowe’s app to find out faster in the future.
The Lowe’s team will evaluate the customer response to the pilot launch and iterate quickly before launching in more stores in Northern California. The team will focus on solving software bugs and hardware glitches related to the beacon technology.
The Lowe’s team will launch in more stores in Northern CA and across the United States based on what they learned from the pilot launch. In addition to installing the beacon technology in the stores and training sales associates, Lowe’s will launch a print and web advertising campaign to communicate the value of their mobile app. In stores, associates will provide discounts to Lowe’s customers at checkout who show that they've downloaded the app.
People are on their phones all the time. Our phones are either in our pockets or in our hands. Lowe’s would spend less money on sales associates and OSHbots if the company improved their mobile app experience, and promoted it. It’s important for Lowe’s to provide mobile tools that reach a younger audience because these customers will be shopping at Lowe’s 5, 10, 20, and 50 years from now.
The redesigned shopping list feature takes advantage of consumer trends and emerging technologies such as Bluetooth beacon, indoor mapping, and push notifications to create the shopping experience customers want.
*I don’t work for or represent Lowe’s. This was a design research project through MindSumo. Thanks!