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Introduction

Everyday of our lives we are exposed to stimulus that affects how we go about our day to day. Quite often, very little conscious thought is given to this stimuli. For example, one day you may go into Moe’s for lunch and Chipotle the next without giving much thought to what drove those decisions. However, something went into making that choice. Were you hungry and the thought of the free chips and salsa at Moe’s sounded appealing? Were you in a bit of a hurry and needed the expediency of Chipotle? All of these go into making purchase decisions whether we realize it or not. With that in mind, for the purpose of this paper, I chose two large home improvement retailers; Home Depot and Lowe’s. Since I needed a few items, it was convenient and not too much of a burden to integrate this research into the normal course of my day.

The Problem

Being a homeowner who also has rental and investment properties, I seem to spend quite a bit of time in home improvement stores. Up until now, I had never considered the implications of choosing Lowe’s over Home Depot, I simply pulled into whichever one was most convenient at the time. With that in mind, this observation set out to answer some basic questions. Which one was more in line with my and similar customer’s needs? Which one can I find what I need easily? Would one clearly save me time over the others? With this in mind, I made up a list of some items that were needed to perform some basic upkeep of my home and one of my rental properties. Namely, I needed a new porch light and some mulch for my house and some electrical switch plates, a door knob, and fuses for my rental property.

For the sake of the research, I decided to visit both Home Depot and Lowe’s before I made my purchase decision.

Observations

In-store. When I walked into Home Depot it felt rather industrial with a warehouse feel. Lowes seemed more like a retail store with attractive displays. Home Depot had a really long return line with one person working whereas Lowes had two or three people working(one was floating around) and a rather short line. What if I wanted to return something? How long would it take? Lowes stores seemed larger and more spacious. I wondered about this so actually looked up average store size. Per Fernando; “The average Home Depot store has 104,000 square feet of enclosed space and 24,000 square feet of outdoor space for garden products. Lowe’s stores are even larger, with an average enclosed space of 112,000 square feet and 32,000 square feet of garden space(2015)”. Going further, it seemed that Home Depot had more professionals, like contractors and workers shopping than the average person looking for home improvement stuff. Conversely, in Lowes, there seemed to be more of the DIY’er atmosphere.

With respect to customer service, I did feel quite “on my own” in Home Depot. Luckily, I was enough of a veteran shopper in these types of stores to be able to root out what I needed. It took me a while to find an employee, and even then I had to approach him and ask for help. Conversely, I was quickly greeted by a Lowe’s employee and asked if I was finding everything I needed.

Online. Moving into the realm of online presences for both companies, I made some simple, yet power observations. First, is that both sites are clean, easy to navigate, and have a good use of whitespace to break up the content into consumable “chunks”. Secondly, is that Home Depot seemed more of the place for the homeowner to go as opposed to Lowe’s. This was evidenced by the search bar statement of “What can we help you find today?(Home Depot, 2018)” verses on the Lowe’s site a simple; “Search for it here…(Lowe’s, 2018)”.  This was a contrast to my in-store experience of Home Depot appearing more for the pro than a simple guy like myself.

The Brands. Not surprisingly, the brand colors of each company gave me a completely different sense and impression. I felt rushed in Home Depot and calm and willing to stroll and browse in Lowe’s. This is simple neuromarketing at play. According to Neil Patel; orange is aggressive, giving off a sense of urgency, like buy now! On the other side of the coin, Lowe’s and the blue of their brand gave me a sense of trust and security(2017).

What I chose

At the end of my research, it was clear that either store(or the Ace Hardware up the street) would clearly serve my needs and had everything I sought in stock and ready to go. However, given that I was in a bit of a time crunch and wasn’t 100% sure that I was getting the right porch light or switch plates, I chose Lowe’s. While I have nothing against Home Depot, Lowe’s was the clear winner here for two main reasons. First, was the fact that I had a couple of questions about the porch light I was looking at and a knowledgeable Lowe’s employee was close at hand and readily answered my questions. Secondly, seeing the length of the return line at Home Depot led me to believe that if I did make an incorrect selection and needed to return or exchange something, I would most likely be waiting in line a while only to be greeted by a stressed out, overworked employee. Essentially, I was factoring in the risk related to my purchase(Reed College of Media, 2018) as it pertained to how much I could potentially be inconvenienced by having to return or exchange an item.  Now, while I was a bit short on time, I’m sure this wouldn’t have been as long as perhaps I perceived it to be, the concept of psychological time(Solomon, 2013) won out here.

So, in the end, my dog, Eddie and I were in and out of Lowe’s in under 30 minutes with what we needed. He even got the fun experience of riding around on the flatbed cart while I made my selections and checked out.

My experiences and key takeaways

When everything is said and done, I honestly found Home Depot to be a tad more intimidating than Lowe’s. From the interior of each store, to the customer service, and finally with the simple observation of the return desk each store clearly seemed designed to serve a particular type of customer. Home Depot for the pro or experienced home improvement type, and Lowe’s for the neophyte who perhaps needs a little guidance in determining the difference between standard and pressure treated lumber. While each company is clearly chasing the same customer base(Fernando, 2017), it was my experience that the physical environment of the stores and websites tell a different(and perhaps conflicting) story.

Conclusion

Like I stated at the start of this paper, oftentimes the factors that go into our individual purchase decisions aren’t always apparent to us. This, perhaps is the reason that I found this research to be of value. Would I have consciously realized that with the long return line at Home Depot that I would have a tough time if I had to return something? Perhaps not, but it likely would have been part of my purchase decision just the same. At the end of the day, we make purchase decisions based on a myriad of factors and considerations, with them often changing and adjusting depending on the day and circumstance. While I chose Lowe’s this time, I still find Home Depot to be a valuable resource and will most likely purchase from them sometime in the future.

 

References

 

Fernando, J. (2015, July 07). Home Depot Vs. Lowes: The Home Improvement Battle. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/070715/home-depot-vs-lowes-home-improvement-battle.asp

Home Depot. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.homedepot.com

Ladner, S. (2014). Practical ethnography: A guide to doing ethnography in the Private Sector. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast press.

Lowe’s. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.lowes.com

Patel, N. (2017, July 15) The Psychology of Color: How to Use Colors to Increase Conversion Rate. Retrieved from https://neilpatel.com/blog/the-psychology-of-color-how-to-use-colors-to-increase-conversion-rate/

Reed College of Media, West Virginia University. (2018). Week 5 Lesson: Decision-Making, Buying & Disposing, Ethnographic Sampling & Fieldwork[Online]. Retrieved from https://ecampus.wvu.edu/webapps/blackboard

Solomon, M. R. (2013). Consumer behavior: Buying, having and being (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

 

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