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In the service economy, every retailer needs to sell more than just the products on its shelves. For home improvement retailers such as Lowe’s, that assertion is particularly pertinent, because the products that it sells demand some level of knowledge and skill among consumers before they can be used effectively. Accordingly, these retailers have long provided in-store advice and assistance, in the form of expert staff and in-store do-it-yourself (DIY) classes. But Lowe’s is seeking to take this assisted DIY model even further, namely, into customers’ own homes.

With its UpSkill Project, Lowe’s allowed customers to submit video applications, describing home improvement projects that they wanted to undertake on their own, but that they lacked the skill or knowledge to complete independently. In a sense, Lowe’s is flipping a common practice, in which DIY-ers search YouTube or other channels for videos that will show them what to do if they need to snake a drain or want to build a gazebo for the backyard. With the UpSkill Project, those aspiring DIY-ers send the video to Lowe’s, showing what they have not yet been able to complete.

The customers selected as the winners then receive notification that an expert, sent by Lowe’s, will be out to assist them in their efforts. The expert will not do the work; it is still a DIY project. But he or she will be on hand as the customer proceeds through the next steps, offering advice, suggestions, feedback, and some assistance as needed.

The first round of the UpSkill Project granted help to approximately 200 customers in 40 different U.S. cities. Although that round has closed, Lowe’s has indicated that it plans to start new rounds in various cities. The question is how long it can continue to offer such personalized, dedicated, expert help to individual consumers, without incurring overly burdensome costs in doing so. Other retailers that similarly offer lessons and help their customers expand their skill sets, such as Apple Stores, usually can insist that the customers visit the store. But the key differentiation created by Lowe’s novel project is the ability for the customers to get the advice at the very moment, and in the very place, they are working on their home improvement project. To improve their home, they need services at those homes, and that means a new model of service provision.

Discussion Question:

  1. Can Lowe’s UpSkill project garner customer loyalty? How?
  2. Will it increase sales and profits? Justify your response.

 Source: Matthew Stern, Retail Wire, July 31, 2017