Lowe’s Cos. is enhancing its website and equipping store employees with iPhones as the second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer seeks to catch up to Home Depot Inc. (HD) and boost sales from its existing locations.
Next month, Lowe’s will introduce its MyLowes online tool that customers will be able to use to store owner’s manuals, warranties and paint formulas, Chief Information Officer Mike Brown said in an interview. The Mooresville, North Carolina- based company is arming workers with 42,000 iPhone 4s to answer shoppers’ questions and ring up purchases.
The company is working to catch larger Home Depot, which gave employees Motorola Inc. handheld devices last year to let them spend more time helping customers and less on behind-the- scene duties. Atlanta-based Home Depot has had stronger same- store sales than Lowe’s for nine straight quarters.
“Home Depot is ahead of Lowe’s in that regard,” said Tim Hoyle, research director for Radnor, Pennsylvania-based Haverford Investments, which oversees $6.5 billion, including 370,000 Home Depot shares and 20,000 Lowe’s shares. “The two are fierce competitors. To believe that Lowe’s can’t catch up would be naive.”
After years of expansion, Lowe’s and Home Depot have saturated many markets and are shifting capital spending from opening new stores to technology that can help them squeeze more sales and profit from existing outlets.
Home Depot spent $60 million last year on the handheld devices from Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola, which has since been split into two companies. Total capital spending for Home Depot was $1.1 billion last year.
Lowe’s will spend a record amount on technology in the fiscal year through January, Brown said, while declining to say how much. The company has said it will boost overall capital spending 20 percent to $1.6 billion this year.
The retailer is replacing 72,000 computer screens with flat panels in more than 1,700 stores, increasing bandwidth for transmitting data and adding Wifi for shoppers’ smartphones, Brown said. It’s adding thousands of items for sale online and last month introduced a Spanish-language version of lowes.com and an app for the iPhone and the iPod Touch.
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