Creating a Seamless Omnichannel Experience with the Smartphone

On November 11th, 2015, PJ Utsi, Vaimo's CCO and co-founder, attended and gave a talk at Retail Forum in Gothenburg, Sweden. Dagens Handel, Sweden's largest writing and editing company, arranges the event twice a year. The popular eCommerce event drew over 180 attendees this time, with representatives present from Sweden's largest retailers. The theme for this particular Retail Forum event was omnichannel and how retailers can effectively utilise cross-channel communication to better reach their customers. In this article, we offer a recap of PJ's presentation on a significant topic in the world of eCommerce: mobile in store.

PJ began his presentation by asking, “What's a smartphone doing in a store?” As modern retailers know, a purchase journey is never linear; a customer doesn't wake up knowing that he will purchase a Milwaukee cordless power drill that evening at a specific location. Every single purchase journey is unique and dynamic, and can start with a single thought or an inspiration. For example, you may see a neighbour's newly renovated bathroom and become inspired to do the same; at that point, you start to research, select brands, form an idea, calculate a budget, and decide on a store to purchase the items from. While this is a very complex and time-consuming process, it becomes even more complicated when the purchasing process starts, as there's often a need to order an item, wait for it, and sometimes return it.

Only one thing is constant throughout the purchase journey, from the moment of inspiration up until the moment of purchase – and that's the smartphone. For modern consumers, this is our life companion – it's the alarm we wake up to, it's the watch we check throughout the day, it's our newspaper, our forum to communicate to one another, and it's often the last thing we look at before going to sleep. Essentially, the purchase journey is happening everywhere. It's the only constant thing and it's a big change from before, as now, our phone is always there with us.

But what's a smartphone doing in a store? The Home Depot has the answer to this question, and the home improvement giant has utilised this important aspect of the purchase journey to their benefit. The Home Depot drives the development of omnichannel, innovation, and the merging of physical and digital retail in the smartphone. So how are The Home Depot and some of the world's largest retailers using the smart phone in the store to drive omnichannel success?



First, let’s look at who we’re talking about here. The Home Depot is the largest home improvement retail chain in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and the world’s largest home improvement retailer overall. The Home Depot is listed as #37 on the Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands and is the fifth largest retailer globally. The home construction behemoth has two websites, a mobile and a desktop site, and receives 34 million monthly visitors to its website. The Home Depot’s retail sales from 2014 were approximately $83.2 billion (source: The Home Depot website). PJ Utsi spent time in the United States in October 2015, and used this opportunity to visit The Home Depot stores to experience their omnichannel solution personally.

Now let’s figure out how The Home Depot achieves this staggering success. As soon as you enter the front doors of any Home Depot store, you are bombarded with signs that instruct you to “Buy online, pick up in store” and a large red sign points to the online purchases pickup counter. Everywhere you look in the store, you see signs telling you to “go online” and reminding customers that more options can be found there. While spending time in the physical store, it’s impossible to miss out on the fact that Home Depot wants you to go online. For example, if you look at the price label on a grill, it encourages the customer to go online and read reviews about this product. Even sales representatives urge you to take out your smartphone in the store, as the wifi is free and launches the website on the smartphone automatically, which then encourages you to download the app. It's practically impossible to avoid The Home Depot’s online presence in their store.



But why do they want customers to take out their smart phones, and what will it add to their shopping experience? We know that the purchase journey is long and uneven and that mobile is everywhere. The Home Depot is simply merging its channels by pushing their customers in their physical stores to go online and download their app. In fact, they are advertising their app more than their actual website. Not only do they want you to go online, but they want you to download their app. It's interesting to note, that no conflict occurs between the different channels when The Home Depot pushes online sales in store. This is because The Home Depot's apps are built to drive sales and the app is smoother, faster and can accomplish more than any representative in a physical store can.

Let’s take a look at The Home Depot’s apps. The store currently has three apps available: The Home Depot app, The Home Depot Pro app, and the Project Color app. The first of the three, The Home Depot consumer app, does everything for the customer, but more on that later. The pro app is tailored for professionals who need to buy faster, pay with an invoice, etc. The last of the three, the Project Color app, solves the problem of purchasing paint and it features paint tones in different lighting.



Let’s find out what the first app offers. The minute you launch the app and log in, two things happen. It recognises you based on your past purchases online, and it knows what you have bought and at what location. Secondly, it also recognises what store you are currently in. Additionally, it offers features to help you shop in store: all you need to do is point your camera at an item with the app and it does an image search to explain the item and its purpose, which is fantastic in a store with professional construction products. The app also features manuals, up-selling, cross-selling and accessories for products. The app knows what has been bought frequently together with a product, and it also offers suggestions, such as what battery is appropriate for a specific power drill.

The app imports all the customer reviews from the web, and we found that people are really keen to offer their input. Customers upload photos of how they use their power drills, or images of the steaks they are grilling on their Home Depot grills. Customers even upload images of the plants they grow using a specific fertiliser. Another great feature is the live chat function, where you can immediately chat with a sales rep instead of trying to find one in the maze of aisles. It not only provides prices and specifications, but it also tells you where in the store a product is located. In 20 000 square meters of Home Depot, this is valuable insight, as it's easy to get lost there!

“With their app, The Home Depot organises the purchase journey, raises awareness about products, helps their customers plan, and creates inspiration in their customers. From planning, to advice, to recalling past shopping lists – the app’s got it covered. In short, The Home Depot’s app does absolutely everything.” - PJ Utsi, CCO at Vaimo



The Home Depot is just one example of how mobile can be utilised in store and why the company is strongly advocating it. Merchants are all trying to solve the mCommerce puzzle of how to increase conversion rates on the smart phone, as consumers everywhere shop on mobile and desktop traffic is slowly dying. While a large portion of retailers receive a generous influx of mobile traffic, they end up not converting well on the small screen. The problem is that retailers view mobile eCommerce as an isolated channel, when in fact, it’s anything but that. It’s ineffective to treat mobile, desktop, or in-store as isolated channels because the purchase journey is a tangled mixture of touch screens and interactions with different channels. From the moment of inspiration, the customer can first view a product quickly on their mobile phone, use their desktop at work to take another look, and then find the product on their tablet in the evening before ever making the purchase. It’s not about attracting mobile users to purchase on mobile as to an isolated channel. The solution is putting mobile to work with the other channels and utilising it as a supporting tool in the purchase journey. Mcommerce is not about getting visitors to convert in the store, and The Home Depot knows this well. You know that the smartphone is with your customer at all times, so the question to ask yourself is, how do you get them to play along?




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