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Exclusive Q&A with Home Depot senior VP, technology

home depot
The Home Depot is scaling its IT infrastructure for the holidays.

The Home Depot applies innovative technology in every area of its enterprise to support holiday shoppers.

Chain Store Age recently interviewed Angie Brown, senior VP of technology, The Home Depot Inc., to learn more about the home improvement giant’s new mobile devices for its employees and other holiday technology rollouts.

What technologies is The Home Depot using to enhance the holiday shopping experience in stores?
For us, holiday readiness is a year-round effort and we are always preparing for the next holiday rush. We have focused our technology investments on making the customer and checkout experience more flexible and seamless through a variety of applications.

Most recently, The Home Depot launched new mobile devices for our store associates called hdPhones. Our hdPhones are equipped with Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, a long-range scanner, and all-day battery strength, allowing associates to locate products quickly and assist customers both inside the store and in the parking lot, for example.

This helps our associates remove friction from the in-store shopping experience for our customers. We also continue to offer a variety of order fulfillment options for holiday shoppers.

If customers are purchasing from home, they can choose curbside pickup and our associates will bring their order to them. If customers are in store, they can use the product search tool to find items in the exact aisle with ‘Store Mode’ in our mobile app. Once they locate the product, they can try our product scanner to verify the price, check the number in stock and even read reviews.

Home Depot has been building and enhancing this seamless experience in store and online that allows customers to shop however, whenever and wherever they want – fostering flexibility that’s especially important during the holiday season.

[Read more: The Home Depot enhances customer/employee experiences with full network refresh]

How is Home Depot ensuring a smooth holiday shopping experience online?
While the holiday season can put a strain on technology platforms, Home Depot made an early move to the cloud that has empowered us to quickly scale our infrastructure in response to online demands and shopping trends.

Over the last three years, we’ve been able to seamlessly manage a significant increase in product demand and web traffic. Our site reliability engineering (SRE) team enabled us to reliably scale many aspects of our platform to meet holiday or other market demands, while maintaining the high level of service that customers can expect from The Home Depot.

Home Depot also utilizes search intent technology to meet our customers where they are. Search intent improves the digital experience by identifying the product or service that customers need without extra work on their end.

For example, searching for an outdoor ceiling fan can be a complex process since we offer so many to choose from. With search intent, the search engine uses terabytes of data and machine learning capabilities to discover hidden connections among products – such as sloped ceilings, ceiling fans and downrods.

That way, when a customer needs to pair their ceiling fan purchase with a downrod of a certain length, the engine will return more relevant results. We aim to stay one step ahead of our customers, so their online experience is not only valuable but intuitive beyond their expectations.

How does mobile technology fit into seamless holiday shopping at Home Depot?
Home Depot is always looking for ways to improve the shopping experience for customers, both at home and in store – and mobile technology is a cornerstone of our strategy. Anyone can download the Home Depot app on their iPhone, iPad or Android devices to make a purchase.

Shoppers can use the app’s product locator to find items they need to start and finish any home improvement job, and use our project guides to help find solutions. If they need several items, they can use the app to build a digital shopping list they’ll never lose and keep track of orders and receipts. They may even discover savings in their cart with our ‘Special Buy of the Day’ and other promotional offers.

People can leverage these features while purchasing from home or while out shopping. And now that more and more people are doing the majority of their holiday shopping online, it's important to us that customers experience all The Home Depot has to offer – from our inventory to our expertise – at their fingertips.

How is Home Depot using technology in its supply chain to ensure inventory availability and timely delivery of holiday purchases?
We've been building our supply chain network to enable the fastest, most efficient delivery in home improvement. Our investments have allowed us to be nimble and meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.

More than 50% of online Home Depot orders are fulfilled in stores, and our cutting-edge supply chain network allows us to efficiently and quickly handle all orders – regardless if it’s a small holiday gift or large construction supplies for a big project.

From an inventory availability perspective, we use a number of advanced tools powered by AI and data science that allow us to better order and replenish goods as we anticipate demand.

As an example, if a customer was remodeling a kitchen, they would be ordering items as small as cabinet handles to as big as a fridge or drywall. The smaller items may get shipped from a direct fulfillment center as a parcel delivery and the larger, bulkier items from a flatbed delivery center.

[Read more: New type of distribution center is a first for Home Depot]

Our technology helps bring it all together – from inventory planning, to moving product through our supply chain network, making that product visible and available in our mobile app, to the moment it arrives in our customers’ hands.

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