Putting AR/VR To Work: Taking the Complexity Out Of Home Improvement

Four Ways Visualization Technologies Can Radically Improve Traditional & Digital Shopping Experiences

By Josh Shabtai, Director, Lowe’s Innovation Labs

Home improvement isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’ve ever lived through a kitchen remodel, installed a new patio and pergola, or have simply tried to track down the exact model of a replacement light bulb, you know just how involved working on your home can be. You’re not alone—32 percent of home improvement projects are abandoned before they even start.

At Lowe’s Innovation Labs, we embrace these kinds of problems. We’re always looking for new ways to zap the complexity out of improving homes and take the burden off our customers—which is why we’ve spent the past five years diving headlong into virtual and augmented reality.

Whether you call them VR, AR, MR or XR, advanced visualization technologies, which can be accessed through a headset or mobile device, show tremendous promise in terms of demystifying the home improvement process. Over the past few years, we’ve worked with every major VR/AR platform and explored how these technologies can produce benefits in product visualization, project advice, how-to-training, and even in-store navigation. Among other things, our work helped Lowe’s to be named Fast Company’s #1 most innovative company in AR/VR in 2018. What we’ve learned could fill an encyclopedia but, in the interest of time, I’ve summarized what we learned into four ways visualization technologies will benefit retailers and help take the pain out of home improvement.

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#1: 3D Content Is The Future Of Digital Commerce & Can Lead To Higher Sales Conversions

Customers making purchases for their homes are high verifiers--they want to touch, see, or compare what they are looking to buy. Traditional two-dimensional product photography is simply not enough to satisfy their needs. Our customers run into challenges determining the size of products, and whether they would fit in their space, report that colors in a manufacturer’s photos don’t accurately reflect the product in real-life and wish that they could see all angles of a product. This is just a short-list of challenges.

3D-enabled shopping experiences provide customers with the next best thing to experiencing a product in the store, which is why we believe 3D content is the future of digital commerce. Customer behavior is also proving this to be true. When 3D images are available, 82 percent of visitors to a product page activate the 3D view, and 95 percent of shoppers prefer an interactive 3D representation to video playback according to a recent study conducted by a 3D imaging vendor Cappacity. Shoppers also rate the quality of images higher in their purchase decisions over product-specific information, product descriptions, and ratings according to research conducted by MDG Advertising.

We are in the process of transforming Lowe’s physical product catalog into a 3D content library which will enable new interactions with customers that would otherwise be impossible. 3D experiences on digital properties help our customers view products from all angles, provide better true-to-form color matching to the product, and help shoppers see the product in their home via their mobile device using ‘view in my space’ experiences. Our initial pilots demonstrated between a 10-50 percent conversion lift in sales on select products when 3D content is available.

Many retailers rely on third parties to produce 3D content, but it can be costly and a challenging process to outsource. To control costs and streamline the pipeline of rich 3D images we built an in-house studio and developed patented processes to improve the quality and accuracy of our 3D content. Our studio has created true-to-life 3D images for thousands of products and are producing 3D images at 1/10th of the cost of traditional 2D product photography. (You can see some samples of our work here.)

#2: Engaging Senses With VR Results In 36% Better Recall

Virtual reality is a truly unique way to explore home improvement projects. From experiencing new room designs to learning new skills, we’ve found that virtual reality creates a holistic, immersive experience that can help customers and employees become more confident in taking on tough new projects.

To help customers take the guesswork out of kitchen renovations, we created a virtual-reality kitchen design experience. The experience allowed users to view physical objects and digital holograms through the Microsoft HoloLens headset while standing in a showroom kitchen. Using simple gestures, customers could easily select from an array of design options and Lowe's products, including cabinetry, hardware, countertops, and appliances.

One of the primary barriers to starting a new home improvement project is customer confidence in completing the task or using new tools. We have conducted VR projects to help customers learn new skills like tiling a bathroom and test new power-tools like hedge trimmers. Through these pilots, we found that combining multiple senses (sight, touch, sound) resulted in 36 percent better recall of project steps for do-it-yourself projects than through video alone and helped customers increase their product confidence by 127 percent.  By applying neuro testing techniques, we were able to prove that by combining senses through VR helped minimize customer’s cognitive load and helped customers learn more effectively.

#3: VR Training = Boosts Employee Confidence By 127% & Reduces Hesitation By 76%

Based on the robust results of try-and-buy experiences with customers, we saw great potential in using VR could help our associates become more confident with products and help improve sales. Retention rates using virtual reality can be as high as 75 percent versus 5-10 percent from e-learning and lectures, according to our partner STRIVR.

To test the theories, we helped train our employees on our in-store blind cutting machine using VR. These blind cutting systems can be intimidating to use, and mistakes can destroy merchandise and be very costly. After VR training, our employees reported 24 percent higher satisfaction, 127 percent increase in confidence and 76 percent lower level of hesitation versus traditional employee training methods used within Lowe’s. Shortly, we’ll be conducting an additional pilot of virtual reality training to determine the best way to scale the approach within Lowe’s.

#4: AR Makes Store Navigation 2x Faster

Visualization technologies also help customers get a jump start on projects by helping them to navigate stores to find what they need. Wayfinding for in-store navigation was recently ranked highest in consumer acceptance amongst retail technologies.

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We designed Lowe’s Vision Navigation, a digital app provides turn-by-turn digital directions to find products by the most efficient routes. During the initial pilots, customers shopping for two or more items were able to find products two times faster than self-navigation. The app also holds the promise of helping our associates find products more quickly, especially new employees.

People want to rely on their sense when shopping--whether it be for a plush couch, sparkling lighting pendants, or a riding lawn mower fit for a queen or king. Over the past several years, we’ve proven that visualization technologies can help shopping experiences radically catch-up with our eyes and make home improvement projects more manageable. We’re working aggressively to implement these new cutting-edge visual experiences for all Lowe’s customers, and are continuing our work to discover new ways to make shopping experiences, fun, simple, and visual.