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10/29/14

Real improvement: Is the Lowe's robotic experiment a game changer?

Ask any random retailer, from the person working within the actual store to the president of the company, and they'll almost always agree on the one aspect of their business that matters most.
Customer service.
Keeping the consumer happy easily is the most important part of the retail world, no matter if you're a "mom and pop" shop on the corner in a local neighborhood or a huge conglomerate like Wal Mart, Target or another brand of that ilk.
Beyond carrying products that people want, you have to create an atmosphere that is welcoming, simple, clean and helpful. But the one characteristics that always consistently tops the charts as it relates to customer service is convenience, an area that isn't always a strong suit for most larger companies.
You could argue that Wal Mart is convenient in that they carry a wide arrange of products and offer the one stop shopping mentality, but the stores are large, confusing and crowded, which eliminates any convenience to speak of and instead creates an atmosphere that leaves customers ready to not only pack in their shopping trip for the day but also question if they'd like to return to the store any time soon.

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Return business and new customers comprise the foundation of what retailers long for on a daily basis, and an unhappy, confused customer that doesn't get the help they need isn't going to satiate the problem.
Home improvement stores are typically the ones that are most annoying for the general public, with the key word being "general." Not everyone is adept at fixing their home or tackling projects but the ones who typically frequent the stores like Lowes or Home Depot aren't experts but rather are hoping to find help from the bevy of employees at these large do it yourself home stores.
Anyone who has ever gone into one of these stores and tried to find something as simple as a specific nail or screw to complete or get started on a project know just how frustrating it becomes to find exactly what you want.
Until now.
A hardware store in San Jose, California, Orchard Hardware Supply, introduced the aptly titled OSHbots, robots that look like self serving kiosks of sorts that allow customers to find what they're looking for within minutes, without having to aimlessly walk through aisles or find someone wearing a fancy smock.
Orchard Hardware Supply is owned by Lowes, and the super home improvement store undoubtedly wants to see just what these stationary robots can do to help make the shopping experience better. These robots have the store's inventory essentially kept within it, and customers can walk in with a screw or part in their hand, scan it and the "robot" can tell them exactly what they have (if they don't know) or how to find it somewhere in this 60,000 square foot home improvement kingdom.
It's hard not to love the idea, particularly in a home improvement store. More than just the practicality involved in this invention is the forward thinking from Lowes to realize their customer service shortcomings (i.e. finding things within their stores efficiently) and is diligently working to make it better.

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