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Q&A: Home Depot benefits from early investments in mobile

A Home Depot executive said that the chain is now reaping the rewards from starting to invest in mobile years ago and expects more good news in the future as it focuses on enhancing search capabilities, streamlining in-store checkout and experimenting with new innovations.

The home improvement retailer is consistently enhancing its mobile offerings, building on its mobile site and applications with augmented reality, GPS and an online database of more than 1 million items. Home Depot’s strength in mobile helped it serve 941,000 mobile Web page views in a single hour on Black Friday, a new record for the chain.

The results that Home Depot saw during the holidays underscore broader trends in the retail sector, with mobile increasingly playing a key role across the entire shopping journey and those retailers who have made the big investments in mobile experiencing significantly higher growth rates. The retailer’s gains in mobile are a key part of its messaging to shoppers, including in a recent post on its blog titled Hammers, nails and code: An interconnected shopping experience.

In an interview with Mobile Commerce Daily, Home Depot’s general manager of mobile Matt Jones discusses mobile’s role in the chains vision of interconnected retail and why mapping and chat will be a big focus going forward.

What is interconnected retail?
Home Depot occupies a place in peoples’ minds as a big box environment. The journey we are on, as an interconnected retailer, is leveraging our supply chain, our stores and building on new and innovative digital experiences, connecting everything together so the customer has a very broad experience.

We think a lot about the pre, during and after shopping experience. I am trying to solve different use cases with that lens.

What role and how big a role does mobile play in interconnected retail?
It plays a different role at different stages. At home, when you have a mobile device in your pocket as you are watching TV, it has increasingly become the device of most convenience in terms of finding information, such as what time stores close, is that item in stock at the nearest location. This is its role in the pre-shop experience.

Where things get really interesting and where we have been leaning in a lot is the in-store experience. With the variety and diversity of products we have, mobile can be a game-changer in helping people navigate in the store. Where is an item located in the store? Once they arrive at the product, is it the right product for me? That’s where a lot of our product information comes into play. It is all available now to customers in their pocket.

What is apparent is the different ways that audiences want to use mobile. Some want to self-guide and some want to use the associates. Mobile is a way to augment the information that is available to the customer when they need it and where they want it.

Post shopping, it is about managing an account, having the ability to get an ereceipt. These are important and things we consider and are building against.

What are the organizational and operational challenges to building interconnected experiences with mobile?
We have a variety of different systems that have been deployed over the years that all need to be retrofitted to support interconnected retail. Pricing, real-time access to inventory – these are challenges we are working to overcome.

Another huge opportunity for us is our 365,000 associates. They are a super powerful asset in terms of conveying the significance of interconnected retail and what it can do for you. They can surface information in the app that shoppers might not know about. They can be ambassadors and agents for helping to market our interconnected abilities.

Does Home Depot see a competitive advantage from having started investing in mobile years ago?
Home Depot is in a very fortunate position. We started investing in mobile a number of years ago in a material way. We are now seeing some of the benefits of that. We think that doing the right thing for the customer, utilizing technology to solve age-old problems that customers have had, such as finding products in the store, that mobile represents a huge opportunity for us.

We will leverage our store foot print and supply chain to get product to people the way that they want it, in the quickest, most economical way. Mobile is a piece of that. It is not the centerpiece, but it is important and playing a bigger role every year.

How is mobile’s role evolving for Home Depot when it comes to driving online sales?
We think about mcommerce on our site, on our app. It could be with buy online, pick up in-store or buy online and ship to store or ship to home. It is a high-growth area for us. It is still relatively small but it is growing in a material way.

It is one facet of how we evaluate the value of mobile. For most retailers, there is also an outside influence that mobile drives to total sales, in terms of visits to the store and research on mobile. Mobile is playing a pretty significant role in driving overall commerce to Home Depot.

As mobile use grows, how is the idea of customer control over the shopping experience evolving?
Let’s take something like search. We have a variety of different mechanisms for customers to search our product catalog. There is bar code scanning. Most people know how to scan a bar code and it continues to grow. Voice search, people using Siri – we think that being able to search our catalog via voice is important. A year ago we introduced image search to help you narrow down and find products related to what you are looking for. It has been interesting to see how it is used. There is also our core text search, which offers type-ahead capabilities and is an area where we continue to make improvements.

There are a variety of different paths that customers want to take and we want to provide as frictionless as possible a way to shop our catalog, add products to card and check out.

What is next for Home Depot on the mobile front?
There are three different themes. One is continued improvement on our search capabilities and way finding across the entire product catalog and in the store as well. Mapping is an area we have leaned in pretty heavily on and we continue to do so. Connecting with customers is an area we will continue to focus on. Checkout is another – we are going to try to take friction out of the buying funnel by making continued improvements to the checkout experience.

Then there will be the innovative swings, such as with image search. We’ve tried some things and we will see how they end up materializing.

Mapping is an area that we think is pretty interesting. Chat is another. We think those are newly emerging customer use cases where we can apply technology in a new way but similar to what we have done in the past.

We already have associates in stores to help people find a product. Using mobile is just a new way of doing things we have always done.