October 14, 2003, 12:00 AM

Closer ties between web and store will drive sales at both, Home Depot says

With its redesigned web site closely mimicking the atmosphere of its stores, The Home Depot Inc. expects the redesign to drive up sales in both channels. Going forward, it will develop even stronger ties between the web and local stores.

With its redesigned web site closely mimicking the atmosphere of its stores, The Home Depot Inc. expects a redesign launched this week to drive up sales in both channels, Shelley Nandkeolyar, vice president of interactive marketing and e-business, tells InternetRetailer.com. “We expect positive results in both channels, as the web better educates customers about our products and the home improvement projects they can do,” he says.

The Home Depot this week launched HomeDepot.com after a redesign conducted by Carlson Marketing Group with input from the retailer’s in-house IT and merchandising staffs. The web site’s new look plays up images of completed home-improvement projects and store personnel, relating to its in-store policy of offering displays of kitchen designs and knowledgeable sales associates who advise customers on not only what to buy but how to use tools and materials. “We wanted to offer the in-store experience across all channels,” Nandkeolyar says. “We want to surround customers with a 360-degree message on the web, in our stores and in our circulars and catalogs.”

The new site also lets shoppers order catalogs through an online form, and it will soon start to offer online versions of catalogs and circulars. In addition, it has set national pricing for online purchases that it expects will avoid conflicting with its more than 150 regional pricing policies. “We have a national pricing formula that we can’t disclose, but it stays within the same range of regional pricing,” Nandkeolyar says.

By expanding its multi-channel strategy, Home Depot is recognizing how today’s consumers want to shop, Nandkeolyar says. “More customers are beginning to shop in all channels and their expectation is that a brand will have a presence in a multitude of ways,” he says. He adds that Home Depot will continue to expand the web as an integral marketing tool that can help customers serve themselves and get the information they need to make purchases.

For example, Home Depot is considering a web site version of its in-store kitchen design centers, where shoppers can work with designers to plan a kitchen or bathroom, Nandkeolyar says. For now, online shoppers can schedule an appointment with a designer to plan a home-improvement project. But Home Depot also plans to offer online self-service configurators that will let shoppers plan and develop an image of room designed with materials available through HomeDepot.com. “Our goal is to have a couple of online configurators,” Nandkeolyar says.

Home Depot is also considering making appliances available for purchase online, a move that would mimic its in-store merchandising strategy of displaying stoves and refrigerators next to its kitchen design centers.

To build even closer online and offline ties, the new site features a store locator mechanism, powered by Vicinity Corp., that provides driving directions and maps to stores. The store locator is linked from a navigation bar that appears on every page.

In addition, Home Depot is considering offering in-store web access to shoppers as well as employees on the selling floor for researching information on HomeDepot.com, Nandkeolyar says.

Nandkeolyar, a former e-commerce executive at Williams-Sonoma Inc. and at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., says he’s been able to apply to HomeDepot.com some of the web site techniques used at Williams-Sonoma.com and MarthaStewart.com. For example: a streamlined customer registration mechanism that supports e-mail marketing programs by gathering e-mail addresses and offering the options of signing up for e-mail promotions and newsletters.

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