Home Depot's Newest Project: Design Online, Buy In-Store

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Hardware chain Home Depot Inc. has ratcheted up its Internet efforts with an online feature that lets consumers mix and match 9,500 branded products before they walk into a store.

Called the Home Depot Online Kitchen & Bath Design Center, the tool not only enables do-it-yourself modeling, but also the creation of a shopping list. For Home Depot, Atlanta, this feature aims to overcome a major challenge bedeviling retailers.

"What they're trying to do is drive more sales and increase purchase confidence," said Doug Mack, CEO of Scene7 Inc., the San Rafael, CA, company that sold the imaging software to Home Depot. "Customers will be more likely to come into the stores, be more qualified, have done more of their research and be more ready to buy when they're in the store rather than coming in and spending countless Saturdays with sales associates that may not end up leading to a completed purchase."

The service, at http://www.homedepot.com/designcenter, carries more than 75 kitchens and bathrooms in styles ranging from country, modern, eclectic or traditional.

Once in a room, consumers can point and click to customize flooring, cabinets, wallpaper, fixtures, paint, appliances and countertops. Scene7's technology allows for the instant change of image elements such as material, color, pattern, trim, surface and texture. Room options are presented in highlighting colors, textures, shadows, lighting and photo-realism.

A printout with the summary of visuals of each product can then be taken to a Home Depot store.

"These are very large-ticket purchase decisions for consumers," Mack said. "They have a great deal of anxiety when making these types of purchases. [Home Depot] is trying to allay user anxiety to increase their confidence that they're making the appropriate design choices so that they can visualize the completed renovation before making these types of purchases."

Consumers will be unable to place room combination orders online largely because of fulfillment issues relating to big-ticket items. The main objective is to offer research from pre-merchandised kitchens and bathrooms.

"You don't expect people to be buying new kitchen cabinets online," Mack said. "I think they're trying to shorten the sales cycle for themselves so that they can increase their conversion rates in-store."

Home Depot hosts Scene7's Infinite Imaging software on its servers. Victoria's Secret, Waverly, Sanyo, Mannington, Levi Strauss & Co. and Home & Garden's HGTV also use the Scene7 technology.

Home Depot's design center also opens another avenue for vendors to market and advertise their products online while the consumer is in the researching mode. Vendors signed up to display products in the design center area include Kraftmaid, DuPont, Armstrong, Kohler and American Standard.

In business for 24 years, Home Depot is the world's No. 1 home improvement retailer with 1,400 stores in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico. With sales of $53.6 billion last year, it was second only to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in terms of revenue girth nationwide.

The design initiative is one of Home Depot's bolder Internet efforts since homedepot.com starting accepting orders in April 2001, five months after rival Lowe's Companies Inc., Wilkesboro, NC.

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