Home Depot Lets Customers Steer Its Visual Commerce Strategy 

Author: Tricia Carr

June 15, 2017

There’s friction in the path to purchase when a customer has a need but can’t adequately describe it to a sales associate or in a search bar. That’s where visual commerce comes in for The Home Depot. 

The home improvement retailer offers visual tools that aim to eliminate this friction and move the customer along their journey. eMarketer’s Tricia Carr spoke with Shawn Coombs, The Home Depot’s senior director of product management for platforms, about how the retailer anticipates what visual tools its customers will benefit from most.

eMarketer: What initially sparked the interest in visual commerce at Home Depot?

Shawn Coombs: We’ve created an expectation within our stores that if someone comes in with a problem, the store associate can help solve it. The same goes for digital—consumers come to our digital properties to either solve their problem or get ready for their visit to the store.

There are two areas where our customers need help: “I have an immediate need because something is broken in my home” or “I'm renovating or improving a room in my house and I need a variety of things or I need inspiration.” In any case, visual is one of the areas that gives the customer the ability to tell us what they're trying to solve in greater detail. For example, the customer can take a picture and we can see exactly what is broken.

eMarketer: There are many technologies out there that can potentially help you help the customer. How do visual tools compare to what else is out there?

Coombs: We look at visual as one of the tools in our toolbox to be able to take the customer's intent or interest and translate it to us easily without a lot of frustration or friction. It’s not a replacement for some of the core areas that we will continue to focus on to help the customer, like search, chat and product recommendations. We look at it as a supplementary way when it's so complex and so challenging for a customer to describe something unique using text, and visual technologies make it possible.

We take [each visual] technology and build out a series of use cases that make sense for our customers.

eMarketer: How do you decide if a certain visual tool is worth the investment?

Coombs: First we focus on the customer and work backwards from there. We take the technology and build out a series of use cases that make sense for our customers.

Things like visual identification and visual search allow us to do a couple of things with our customer. One is for those immediate home improvement needs when the customer is trying to solve a problem. If they can show us a picture of it, we can quickly get them to the right solution.

Further up the funnel, there’s an opportunity when customers are in the exploration stage and they’re open to discovery. For example, say a customer is looking for the right area rug to go with their sofa. We have many samples in our stores and thousands of rugs on our website. If we have a picture of your sofa, we can see the dominant colors and give you a series of suggestions in the rug aisle or online.

eMarketer: Visual search might be a trend in the retail industry now, but will it become more widely used by consumers?

Coombs: We’re still in early days. At this point, we have to demonstrate to customers where the value-add is for them to do a visual search. Within 18 to 24 months, it will become commonplace. People will recognize when it makes sense to snap a photograph and use it to help them get to an answer faster.

As the technology gets better and as customers get more comfortable, voice and visual will rise together.

More people will move away from text search over the next three to four years and use a combination of voice and visual as a replacement. These two make a strong combination. It’s natural, because humans are visual and oral—we’re not text-based. As the technology gets better and as customers get more comfortable, voice and visual will rise together.

eMarketer: In the future, what do you expect to accomplish under the visual commerce umbrella?

Coombs: We will continue to explore and expand our use cases with visual, but it will be driven by specific use cases we're trying to solve and the appetite of the customer. We generally don't like to get too far ahead of the customer, because if we have to explain why this new technology is beneficial to them, we've gone backwards in helping the customer.

There’s just as much of a pull from the customer as there is a push from us—it’s a healthy tension. It’s about understanding the customer and if they are ready for the next level of use cases.