Lowe’s innovates because it has to
At last week’s Shoptalk conference, Kyle Nel, the executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, detailed why innovation is so important for retailers, primarily because the current pace of change is exponential. And yet, survival on incremental technological change alone may be impossible.
Mr. Nel said that when a new and different technology comes out (speaking not just of Lowe’s), it inevitably disappoints, investment falls off, but then a core group continues to work on it. At that point, it’s hard to figure out exactly what to work on during the “deceptive disappointment” phase, before the new and different tech comes back to market in a better form and more successfully.
For Lowe’s, it’s about helping people love where they live and seeding the future. So, Lowe’s does live testing with consumers based on neuroscience to see what is “in flow,” or intuitive for consumers, and what is not in flow, meaning difficult and frustrating. Mr. Nel says humans are obsessed with stories as a way of digesting disruptive information, so Lowe’s actually provides ideas to sci-fi writers to spark narrative-driven innovation. And the innovation lab execs read comic books to help understand storytelling.
Some of the innovations Lowe’s Innovation Labs and its partners have created include:
- The “LoweBot” – an in-store robot that can answer questions from consumers, take them to a requested item, and keep an eye on inventory issues. It is currently in test in San Jose, California.
- The Lowe’s Holoroom is a virtual reality home improvement design and visualization tool that allows shoppers to design and place products in virtual rooms and then “step inside” them and move around wearing goggles. Using Google Cardboard and their smartphones, they can even “take” their newly designed rooms home with them. This concept is periodically in test in a number of stores. Another version with mixed reality, called “HoloLens,” has also been tested, working with Microsoft.
- In-store navigation – an app and a Tango-enabled smartphone enables shoppers in a two-store test in California and Washington to get directions to items on shelves.
- Virtual reality “how to” training – According to a recent report in Fortune, with the use of an HTC Vive virtual reality headset, customers interact in an in-store enclosure with a 3-D representation of, for example, a bathroom. They receive detailed instructions about how to install bathroom tile and the like. This is currently in test in a single store in Framingham, Mass.
While a number of tests are under way or have been completed, few if any have been rolled out chain-wide or even to a large group of stores.
- Lowe’s Innovation Labs
- Holoroom – Lowe’s Innovation Labs
- LoweBot – Lowe’s Innovation Labs
- In-Store Navigation – Lowe’s Innovation Labs
- Lowe’s Introduces In-Store Navigation Using Augmented Reality – Lowe’s/PR Newswire
- Lowe’s Wants People to Fix Their Bathrooms in Virtual Reality – Fortune
- Lowe’s takes AR immersion to the next level – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should major brick and mortar retailers invest heavily in innovation labs as a way to experiment with new ideas, get creative, and find ways to rejuvenate the physical shopping experience? Which of Lowe’s innovations seems to have the most promise?