Responding to the changing needs and desires of consumers, retail giant Lowe’s Canada has implemented more than 230 initiatives over the past year or so aimed at improving customer experience on every channel it operates – in stores, across websites, by phone, by live chat, on social media and through its VIPpro app.
Those initiatives were fuelled by the changing landscape in the retail world brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the IT team of about 345 experts enabled Lowe’s to roll out a number of ideas in rapid fashion, which were planned initially for the longer term. The company accelerated its IT transformation, increasing its project volume by more than 50 per cent.
Rajat Khanna, Lowe’s Canada’s Vice President Information Technology, said as a home improvement retailer it provides many essential products and services for customers. For the customer, a complete omnichannel experience was required. From a store standpoint, staff had to adapt to the changes required through mandatory public health measures. The supply chain was challenged.
All three dynamics came into play.
“On top of that we had an added thing to solve: How do we harmonize our experience across all the banners that we have. We have a Lowe’s banner. We have a RONA banner. We have a Reno-Depot banner,” said Khanna.
“Looking at all this, the good news was we already had all the plans in place. Now the road map was three to four years. So what we had to do was how do we fast forward everything that we had already in the plan by 50 to 75 per cent and in addition to that, not just fast forward, but be agile and roll out in months so that we can keep making progress.”
For example, it fast forwarded its Zebra Smartphones, handheld devices, for staff. Thousands of them across all banners. The smartphones have apps on them to help staff in various ways provide a better experience for customers. For example, an app as a store counter to keep track of how many people are coming and going from the store. There’s also a line-busting app that monitors how many people are in line for checkout for when it’s too busy staff can check people out while they are in line. Also, product inventory apps where staff can determine how much product is available and where it’s available.
“That Zebra Smartphone became a tool for us that solved our problems today. It also became a leverage for us where we can keep installing apps. There’s no shortage of it. We have about 20 now but we can go to 30, 40, 50 in the future. It becomes a good platform for us to scale,” said Khanna.
“In about 14 months, we rolled out about 230 initiatives. We moved that fast.”
These were just some of the initiatives fast-tracked in 2020:
- A curbside pickup scheduler where a customer could order a product but also choose a time slot of when they want to be at a store to pick it up;
- An online colour paint selector where customers could see different colours, see a virtual room setting where that paint was used;
- Pickup lockers where customers could come and grab items they had purchased which were being stored in the contactless lockers at the store;
- During the first wave, Lowe’s customer service call volume increased more than eight-fold. New initiatives included interactive voice response (IVR), online parcel tracking and order cancellation, as well as a live chat feature on websites to ease the pressure on its teams and help customers more effectively by reducing the time they spend waiting on the phone, 94 per cent less time to be exact;
- Installation of electronic shelf labels in its Appliances department. It will be rolled out eventually to other products such as lumber;
- The VIPpro app and Pro pickup priority service for contractors helping them get the tailored service they are accustomed to obtaining from its in-store Pro teams.
Tony Cioffi, Executive Vice President, Store Operations, said the IT transformation for the company has been huge.
“It’s really about the partnership between IT and store operations. We have an IT support team that understands what the issue is and really goes into stores to understand what problems we are trying to resolve and then really work in partnership to resolve them,” said Cioffi.
“The biggest paradigm shift we’ve done as a team is we’re attached at the hip. Our teams are attached at the hip. We know that we can rely on our IT organization when we’re looking at what problem are we trying to solve and go after.
“We talk a lot about retail fundamentals in our business. We’re trying to get our stores focused really on three things. And when you focus on three things it allows your life to be a lot clearer and you can really get things done. Our number one priority is customer service. Making sure we’re there to serve our customers. Our number two priority is making sure we have the inventory in our shelves, the in-stock position, so that when a customer comes in they have what they need. And number three making sure that when a customer walks in our stores, they feel it’s a clean environment and they feel safe. And nothing has been more important in the last 18 months than having those priorities. Every project, every IT, technology or process that we’re implementing, has all been with the focus of how do I make my store associates spend more time on those big three, on the three retail fundamentals.”
Cioffi said the pandemic made the retailer, and the industry, understand how nimble and quickly they had to respond to changing consumer trends. And multiple initiatives were put in place to support those front line workers who were taking care of those customers.