Lowe’s is getting smarter about what its customers want—no surprise for a retail chain with an active innovation lab and a track record that includes robots (more on that below). The home-improvement retailer is expanding its curated collection of smart home products and on-site technical support from b8ta, whose experts are called (of course) “b8ta testers.”
The “Smart Home powered by b8ta” connected-home shopping experience is rolling out to 70 Lowe’s stores across America, expanding from a successful three-store pilot last year. The collaboration is with software-powered electronics retailer b8ta.
The immersive boutique format—more ‘pop-in’ than ‘pop-up’— includes a wide array of items ranging from security systems to thermostats, cameras to lighting, speakers and more from brands customers know and trust.
The stores-within-stores target the growing cohort of gadget-enthused customers looking to make their connected home devices smarter. “Consumers aspire to live a connected life and crave solutions that make this possible,” said Ruth Crowley, VP customer experience design at Lowe’s.
“Smart home products simplify life—but the technology can sometimes be confusing or intimidating,” she added. “So we developed Smart Home powered by b8ta to emulate a ‘lab-like’ atmosphere that empowers customers to make informed decisions.”
Smart Home powered by b8ta is available now in select major U.S. markets, including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, Tampa, Raleigh, Charlotte and Washington, D.C.
b8ta’s dashboard and analytics make the smart product mini-shops a fully immersive format where customers can check out 60 smart home products, displayed out of the box to encourage a hands-on ‘try and buy’ customer experience. Each item has an adjacent iPad with product-related content and pricing details.
“Consumers will have the opportunity to engage and demo a curated selection of connected products, with knowledgeable product experts on-hand to navigate consumers through their journey,” said Phillip Raub, co-founder (with other Nest alumni) and chief brand officer of b8ta, which collaborated with Lowe’s on last year’s three-store pilot test of “SmartSpot powered by b8ta” holiday in-store boutiques.
As the IoT and smart products continue to grow in popularity, Lowe’s has stayed on the leading edge—going so far as to hire science fiction writers to help it envision the future—and experimenting with 3D printing.
Last year it introduced a robot—correction, Lowebot—as an in-store greeter and concierge. Earlier this year it released DIY tutorials in virtual reality inside Lowe’s Holoroom, which debuted in 2014. That was followed by the launch of two AR apps: one that measures an object or distance within a phone’s camera view; and one that offers images of furnishings at scale in a user’s home.
— Lowe's (@Lowes) November 10, 2017
In addition to the 70 store-within-a-store format shops, 1,000 Lowe’s locations rolled out specialized smart home displays featuring products primed for Black Friday shopping and the holiday season.
North Carolina-based Lowe’s has held its own in a challenging retail environment, with the chain’s shares climbing close to 10% this year, compared to the S&P 500 Retail ETF which fell 11% during the same period. The retailer serves more than 17 million customers a week in North America, posting sales last year of $65 billion.
“From a competitive position, we believe LOW is at lower risk from e-commerce than most other retailers in the near term, and has the scale to make many of the necessary investments for future growth,” noted KeyBanc analyst Bradley Thomas to CNBC. “Essentially all physical retailers are facing a growing threat from e-commerce and Amazon. The home improvement sector has historically exhibited less risk from e-commerce.”
While it may be less at risk from e-commerce, it’s refreshing to see a retailer take (smart) risks to engage customers with new ideas, fresh thinking and make smart home tech relatable, real and (dare we say it?) fun to engage with.
Case in point: the “Escape Room Challenge with YouTubers” to promote the Black Friday specials. The plot: “Two YouTubers. Two experts. A maze full of puzzles and 60 minutes on the clock. Can they build their way out of the Lowe’s Black Friday DIY Escape Room?”
The cast: Moe, an electrician, and Wes, a home remodeler are joined by YouTubers and creators Grant Thompson from the channel ‘The King of Random’ and Bob Clagett from ‘I like to Make Stuff.’