Hardware retailers prepare to keep being helpful

Home Hardware and Home Depot have been adapting what draws customers into their stores to the world of distanced retail.
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In most provinces, the home building and improvement sector was granted the go-ahead to reopen earlier than other businesses, and it has been looking how to do so safely while meeting the high demand of the spring construction and renovation season.

Ginny Hicks, director of marketing and advertising for The Home Depot Canada, tells strategy the brand’s new campaign, “Let Us Bring Spring To You”, shows all the regular scenes one would expect of spring creative – backyard barbecues, patios and mowing the lawn. But it also acknowledges its customers’ current COVID situation and helps with getting home improvement products safely delivered to their homes, focusing on logistical details about shopping online, delivery, curbside pick up and extended returns, without the shots of its stores or sales associates.

In a May 19 conference call, Craig Menear, Home Depot’s chairman, CEO and president, reported sales leveraging its digital platforms increased approximately 80% in the latest quarter – 60% of the time, customers opted to pick up their orders at a store. In the case of Ontario, Menear says this “curbside capability was turned on essentially overnight when it became the only option to remain open with stores operating under these circumstances for more than a month.”

As the need to access products online grew, Hicks says the retailer saw a segment of customers that were shopping online for the first time, so educational and clear communication on the delivery and pickup options were important.

As part of the digital platform engagement spike, Hicks adds that the brand implemented new virtual solutions for other services customers previously came to the store for, like DIY advice on kitchen and deck design. “While some of our in-store services like workshops remain paused so that we can continue to limit and manage traffic in our stores, we have over 1,000 digital workshops on Homedepot.ca,” Hicks says. Other creative from the retailers emphasize the convenience and trust consumers can place in its ecommerce platform, its product reviews and its delivery service.

According to a Jackman Reinvents study, the new normal as the economy moves forward is a category shift to a more DIY mindset, compared with the DIY declines analysts had predicted last year, thanks to smaller condo sizes and a younger constituency favouring a “do it for me” mentality.

According to Hicks, in mid-March, the brand began encouraging customers to shop on Homedepot.ca for non-essential needs, and cancelling major promotional events, including “Spring Black Friday,” to limit store traffic, on top of the typical health safety messages retailers were putting out at the time. In store, she says it has made changes to improve physical distancing. This can vary store to store, but some examples include putting one-way aisles in place, or retooling specific aisles to stage curbside pickup orders.

Rob Wallace, VP of marketing at Home Hardware Stores, says its marketing strategy has been focused on omnichannel experience as the pandemic has necessitated promoting phone and email orders, curbside pickup and changing store hours. But unlike retailers that have avoided driving traffic to stores, Wallace says that, to help manage the high volume of online orders, the brand is urging consumers to consider purchasing in-store at preferred locations and imposing an ecommerce dollar minimum. That makes customer flow in-store even more critical – Home Hardware stores already tend to have smaller footprints and more narrow aisles than big box competitors – and Wallace says it is achieving its goals through signage, safety barriers and enforcing customer store limits.

As a national retailer that’s locally owned, Wallace says COVID-19 presented different stages and regulations that retailers have needed to adapt to, which have slight variations in timing and details in different jurisdictions.  Through the crisis, he says the brand’s independent dealers have been leading the charge in putting these safety measures in place and communicating them to customers.  Wallace says channels like flyers and social, have never been more important, as part of its community connectivity [see messaging below], as they allow for a greater degree of direct communication from specific, local stores.

“Consumers know that we are their neighbours and an extension of their family,” Wallace says. “We are not shifting our brand, which has always been about helping. The core of what we offer to our customers is everything need for their projects big and small. Basements still flood, roofs still leak and faucets still run.”