Better Shopping Experience at the Home Depot and Lowes

Is it really possible to enhance the shopping experience at Lowes or the Home Depot? God we hope so and of course President Obama is counting on it. Not really, but at least I grabbed your attention didn't I? And besides the President did meet with labor leaders at the Home Depot in Alexandria Virginia about installing insulation so at least he is counting on the Home Depot and Lowes to be a part of that solution.

Despite the fact that many people have strong feelings against or for these stores or certain products like Pegasus faucets that the Home Depot provides. I've been pretty amazed that there is no middle ground when it comes to these home improvement stores for a variety of reasons. I've often asked myself "how come?" and what could be done about it. Here's some suggestions Home Depot and Lowes.

Why so much anger with the Home Depot and Lowes?
From looking at comments on previous posts, most people seemed pretty upset with the following:

   1. Lack of knowledge by Sales Associates,
   2. Products that don't hold up like Pegasus faucets, and
   3. Home Depot and Lowes Services subcontractors that don't perform well.

Sales Associates at the Home Depot and Lowes feel equally frustrated with rude and obnoxious customers who show them no respect.

I think what bothers customers goes to their expectations. Many customers seem to expect Lowes and the Home Depot to provide a large selection of products, significant discounts and knowledgeable sales associates. It's the last point which I think is totally unrealistic. How come? Well if you have called a plumber, electrician or a carpenter to do some work for you, you would understand. These craftsman demand and get top dollar for the knowledge they bring to a job. How can the Home Depot or Lowes provide that level of expertise and keep prices low? I don't think they can do it and acknowledge the trade off.

I'm also going to acknowledge that many Sales Associates do a great job in assisting people. All this despite little or no training and a relatively low wage. My hat goes off to you.

Is the anger justified?
Perhaps the criticism of Lowes and the Home Depot is deserved and the anger justified. Take a minute to think about it. Lowes appears to be telling consumers in their advertising that they can help them build or repair something. Those TV spots by Lowes "Lets build something together today" imply that the store is going to help you. There is a limit to this and they certainly are not going to do it for you unless you sign up for specific services.

Home Depot offers Pegasus Brand faucets, which people have trouble with. People love the look and the price, but have been disappointed in the performance and the fact that they can't easily find replacement parts. A good faucet is supposed to last about 20-25 years and you would expect that if there's a problem, that it would be a breeze to get a part. Not so with Pegasus according to many people. There's no website (as of this writing) and most people at the Home Depot refer folks to Customer Service which has not been stellar.

In fairness to Lowes and the Home Depot
I think that all we can expect from Lowes and the Home Depot are the following:

  • Low prices,
  • Reasonable quality,
  • A liberal return policy, and
  • Standing behind their products, especially their generic brands like Pegasus.

Sales associates can and should be helpful, but don't expect them to be a master carpenter, plumber or electrician. Of course you may find a very knowledgeable Lowes or Home Depot associate for advice. Sales Associates do receive training, but to expect them to guide you through a complicated project is not realistic. The exceptions of course are their kitchen and bathroom designers.

No brainers to Improve Matters
Customers who want to do a home improvement project have to do their home work. After all, this is "Do It Yourself" and not "Do It For Me." Go to the library or buy a book and study up on the materials, tools and the skills needed. Then head down to the Home Depot and Lowes with a shopping list.

There are a number of no brainers that Lowes and the Home Depot can do to improve:

  1. Stop promising what you can't really deliver. Specifically stop telling people that you can help them build something when you clearly can't bridge that gap except in a few areas.
  2. Start promoting "how to do it books" and your websites which should be guiding people on routine home improvement projects.
  3. Stand by the products and services you sell. If a product does not hold up, refund a customers money plus 10 percent for the inconvenience. That at least will recognize that your customers' time is valuable too.
  4. For Pegasus faucets, provide a website and a well publicized toll free number where customers who bought Pegasus faucets and fixtures can find replacement parts. Advise the Home Depot staff about these and have them direct customers directly to those resources.
  5. With respect to the Pegasus Brand, consider disclosing who manufacturers the Pegasus Brand and whether other plumbing parts form other manufacturers can be substituted for them without voiding any warranties.

Tackling the Underlying Issues
The two issues that home improvement stores face are customers that have not done their homework and/or are not prepared to do the job. Add a great deal of anxiety from people who are nervous about undertaking projects and you can understand why there are lots of complaints. Many customers watch HGTV's eye candy and think "I can do that!" Unfortunately, they can't visualize what's needed and they need help getting organized. I think that both the Home Depot and Lowes have to do a much better job of educating their customers, especially those who don't have extensive skill levels or are "handy." Fortunately, there are a few cool ways to do this. One uses cartoons. See our article for several good examples.

We mentioned earlier that some home furnishing stores offer a better shopping experience to their customers. Let's face it, it's very different when you offering 1,000 products (I'm guessing) from Crate and Barrel and 50,000 products (I'm really guessing) from Lowers or the Home Depot. Yet, there's a lot that goes into a decision to purchase a living room suite or bedroom suite and also some common threads with doing a home improvement project or an extensive remodeling project like redoing a bathroom.

Essentially, a customer in a home furnishing store could select each living room piece separately. Customers don't have to read a book. Instead Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Reunion Hardware educate their customers by setting up vignettes so that their customers can visualize everything. If the customer likes the look, they can purchase the entire suite. If they like some parts they can purchase them. At a minimum, they can visualize everything that is needed to complete that suite- bedding, pillows, lighting, shades, furniture, layout, etc. The only thing that concerns them is price and whether they can get items through the front door. If they were buying furniture at IKEA they might have to consider also whether they had the skill level needed to assemble the furniture. if not they could pay to have that done for them.

Now you are thinking to yourself, there's a difference between a project that I am undertaking at the Home Depot and Lowes. Yes and no. When you want to repair your sink faucet, paint a room, install engineered wooden floors, or drywall, etc. you have to:

   1. Understand and visualize the entire project and know before hand what materials and tools you'll need.
   2. Understand what you need to do and determine if you have the proper skill levels aka are you "handy".

What Lowes and the Home Depot could do to help
Instead of just pushing products as customers, Lowes and the Home Depot should be asking what projects their customers are trying to do. Then they can provide the following resources:

  • Refer customers to their home improvement books and DVDs and their websites. Seems like the actual brick and mortar stores and the websites don't really talk to each other and are not used much in the stores.
  • Think outside the box and use howtoons and instructables to educate home improvement newbies.
  • Print out lists of materials and tools needed for common home improvement jobs and make them available to customers.
  • Assemble packages or kits of common home improvement projects. These could be assembled by manufacturers or placed on displays. We have seen some kits in the Painting Department that include brushes and rollers, etc. Even better, provide a list of the materials and items for customers.

It is nice to have a list of materials and tools you'll need for the job, but then you have to hunt it all down. That list could also contain the aisle in the store where one could find the item. Better yet, Lowes or Home Depot could put together in-house kits to allow people to purchase everything they needed at once. This should be the rule not the exception, every time that Lowes or the Home Depot offer do it yourself clinics. For example, after watching the ceramic tiling demo, a sales associate could down the name of anyone wanting to do a ceramic tile project and then proceed to assemble the kits (materials and tools) for the customer.

I'd be interested in what you think and look forward to your comments. Do you think any of the suggestions would improve things. Please let us know.