Imagine two typical problems facing a home improvement project: a carpenter trying to find just the right nail quickly in a big-box store and getting more frustrated with every passing minute; his customer trying to picture just how an outdoor deck will look after a renovation. Lowe’s is turning to AI technologies to give customers—and its employees—a big helping hand.
The venerable home improvement retailer probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence and robotics. Yet it’s fitting that a chain selling hammers and saws would clearly see AI technologies for what they are—tools to get a job done. Welcome to a world where software meets the hardware at a home improvement brand.
Gihad Jawhar, vice president of digital development at Lowe’s and the guiding hand behind the company’s AI efforts, describes the big picture behind the brand’s deployment of various technologies—computer vision, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP)—to solve customers’ problems and guide them seamlessly and quickly to the right products. “AI happens to be the right tool for us to do these things,” he says. “We never set out to leverage AI. The technology doesn’t drive the solution. The problem drives the solution—and AI technology is a way to solve it.”
Lowe’s is hardly alone—a recent Forbes Insights survey found that 50% of retail executives chose AI as the most important technology for the future of their companies.
AI As A Helping Hand In Customer Service
Lowe’s has experimented with a number of AI-driven projects, and it’s set to deploy new solutions. Its LoweBot in-store autonomous robot, launched as a one-year pilot program in 2017, was able to answer basic questions and navigate customers and employees through a store. It kept track of inventory in real time and detected sales patterns that could guide business decisions. Now the company is taking some of the technologies from that experiment—computer vision, for example—to spot holes in inventory—literally empty space on store shelves. And it has just released a text-based customer service platform that will anticipate what a customer wants.
All of these things enable Lowe’s employees to devote their attention to more complex, human problems, says Jawhar, like lending their expertise to a customer’s particular project, perhaps a troublesome leaky roof.
The LoweBot and many of the retailer’s other AI technologies emerged from Lowe’s Innovation Labs, which is also working on technologies like augmented/virtual reality visualization and an app-based VR store (the first of its kind), where customers can see how products or projects will look in their homes. An example of the company’s focus on visualization in retail is its Holoroom Test Drive, a fully immersive VR experience that allows customers to test power equipment in a true-to-life virtual way. The technology won the Auggie award for Best Enterprise Solution in 2018. […]