While data and analytics are benefitting all the major industries across the globe, Lowe’s, which is one of the biggest home improvement retailers, also vouches for data to be its biggest business enablers. With more than 18 million customers walking into their stores each week, they generate an enormous amount of data and have put it into the right use for sure, as it is this data that helps them drive a $71.3 billion business to make better decisions and more.
“Being the world’s second-largest home Improvement and a fortune 50 retailer, analytics is often the foundation to serve our customer better in all aspects of our business. This includes the ability to recommend personalised products and experiences, optimise supply chains to ensure all-round availability and speed of delivery, offer the right mix of products at the right price and finally intelligence around how we can attract, retain and engage our customers,” shared Vijay Nair, Senior Director Analytics and Computational Intelligence (DACI) at Lowe’s with Analytics India Magazine.
With over 400 folks in the data, analytics and ML teams spread across Moorseville, North Carolina and Bengaluru, the company has set up an innovation centre in Bengaluru which comprises more than 55% of this number. Nair shared that they have moved from supporting the business on ad-hoc analysis across verticals to building industry-leading data products across the board.
Data & Analytics At Lowe’s
Data Analytics and Intelligence has become critical across the retail operations and more so with the omnichannel approach to provide consumers with a personalised and seamless experience. AI and ML are gradually becoming an integral part of processing data, assessing needs and deploying the right measures through both predictive models as well as prescriptive models, again across the organization.
Abhay Tandon who is the Director of Innovation and Head of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, India shares that at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, Bengaluru, they are constantly working with emerging tech start-ups, most of who are deploying deep learning models to generate insights. He shares that these models could help in predicting demands of unseen products to artificially synthesizing winning product designs, personalise interactions with customers and associates to optimizing route and packaging for faster fulfilment etc.
Talking about machine learning as a part of growth strategy at Lowe’s, Nair shared that Lowe’s is truly a great example of a modern successful omnichannel retailer as we offer not just world-class products both offline and online but also offer services like installs, repairs and maintenance.
This wealth of data enables us to build some industry-leading ML applications around assortment optimisation, delivery routing, promotional planning and effectiveness, personalised recommendations etc.Vijay Nair
He further shared that what differentiates their teams from the plethora of data scientists in the retail world is the added challenge of having to understand the nuances of a home improvement retailer in order to truly make it work.
To put data into action, Lowe’s use a wide variety of open source and best in class tools which includes the likes of Python, R, SQL for analysis, data visualization tools like Microstrategy, Power BI & Tableau, Tensorflow for ML and a whole host of other tools as they plan to increase their move towards the cloud.
Lowe’s Strong Focus On Data Management Capabilities
Devanathan Rajagopalan, Principal Enterprise Architect for the Data, DACI team shared that at Lowe’s they look at providing the right data platforms for their analysts and end-users which is a mix of On-Prem and Cloud Platforms. He added that it is also important that they provide good metadata and data discoverability so they can truly make the enterprise data-driven. “This is done by ensuring we have good routines on data management, data stewardship and also by building and leveraging scalable data platforms,” he said.
Our focus continues to be the delivery of data products that see high adoption supported by a seamless data delivery platform for which are always on the lookout for great talent!Vijay Nair
Talking about the talent, Nair also shared that apart from the obvious quantitative, programming and communication skills, they look for candidates with a desire and an experience to build an end to end products that enhance the experience of millions of customers and over 300,000 associates. “Significant training on deep domain expertise and data storytelling is also crucial if you need to be truly successful at data science,” he added.
Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality At Lowe’s
AR, VR and XR are creating exciting visualizations for consumers and associates alike. Lowe’s Innovation Labs was a pioneer in exploring virtual and augmented reality applications for retail.
Our early learnings have fuelled an ecosystem of powerful augmented, mixed and virtual reality super-power tools to assist Lowe’s customers and associates with visualization, learning and navigation.Abhay Tandon
He further shared that in 2017, Lowe’s became the first retailer to apply AR/VR technology beyond design to enable learning through a new, scalable form of DIY skills training: an immersive in-store VR installation called Holoroom. Since the initial pilot, the Labs has developed VR-led training for Lowe’s associates and VR-enabled product demos that are not only visually immersive but provide haptic and auditory feedback.
“We also continue to explore the latest applications of indoor mapping, spatial anchors and other emerging technologies to improve in-store wayfinding for both our customers and associates, ” he added.
Bringing New Capabilities Into Retail Business
Earlier in 2019, Lowe’s acquired Retail Analytics platform from Boomerang Commerce. Nair shares that acquiring Boomerang has provided them with world-class capabilities in the competitive intelligence space both from tools and a talent perspective.
“Starting with the pricing space where they have done a phenomenal job, we have a plan to unleash their capabilities in assortment, inventory, promotional intelligence, item content as well as from a delivery fulfilment perspective. We are also very excited that after a year of acquisition we have successfully integrated them into our technology teams,” he said on a concluding note.