December 6, 2012, 4:19 PM

Lowe’s elevates the status of its web and mobile channels

The retailer says online commerce is now a core business.

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Lowe’s Cos. Inc. is in the midst of resetting its corporate structure to improve how it sells home improvement products to consumers in stores and on its e-commerce and mobile commerce sites.

The reorganization places online and mobile commerce on an equal basis with more than Lowe’s 1,700 stores, said Gregory M. Bridgeford, chief customer officer, at Lowe’s analyst and investor conference yesterday. “It really is part of an integrated multichannel experience that we want for customers where there are no channel barriers, so it is seamless in the experience,” Bridgeford told analysts.

Seamless is the watchword for Lowe’s, No. 47 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 guide. In 2011, Lowe’s began installing Wi-Fi in stores and provided 42,000 iPhones for store employees to use. “We also began installing the foundational elements to allow customers to shop with us anytime and anywhere,” said Robert A. Niblock, chairman, president and CEO. “That can mean shopping at a store or with a mobile device, then having the product shipped directly to the customer’s home or to a store for pickup. Or it could mean visiting a customer at home on at a job site equipped with the tools to generate a quote and close the sale all in one visit.”

Accomplishing that means changing the corporate structure from one designed to support bricks-and-mortar store sales to one that accommodates multiple sales methods, he said. Earlier this year Lowe’s created a chief customer officer position, held by Bridgeford, and the chief operating officer position, held by Rick D. Damron, who collaborated on developing a unified shopping strategy.

In November, Lowe’s hired Marise Kumar as its senior vice president of strategy and modeling. Kumar, a former Best Buy Co. executive, was charged with helping the retail chain improve shopping for consumers across all channels.

“If we’re really focused on that customer and working seamlessly across channels, we’re not optimizing one channel at the expense of the other,” Damron said. “What we’re trying to do is bring that customer’s experience to life across each of those channels in the most effective way possible.”

Providing consumers multiple ways to buy Lowe’s products is especially important given the growth of its e-commerce and mobile commerce channels. In the past year, Lowe’s e-commerce inventory doubled to 450,000 items on its web site, and its consumer-facing mobile sites have increased in the past 24 months to represent 20% of overall Lowes.com traffic, Damron said.

Lowe’s also is paying attention to fulfillment, he said. “We implemented a flexible fulfillment last fall, which allows us to deliver Lowes.com partial orders from the most efficient location directly to our customers,” Damron said. “This means that more items are available for partial shipment than ever before, and we can provide faster delivery.” In the year since, the number of partial shipments doubled, aiding Lowes.com overall third quarter sales growth of 60%, he said. Lowe’s does not disclose its e-commerce sales.

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