010: Lowe's | Don’t Underestimate the Power of Iteration
Stephanie Cox (VP of Marketing at Lumavate): I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters.Today I’m joined by Taylor Webster at Lowes. Taylor is a user experience and design manager and is responsible for the end and experience for Lowe's consumer facing iOS and Android apps. He's continually pushing the boundaries of native mobile retail at scale. In this episode, Taylor and I talked a lot about what it was actually like to be at Macworld when Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPhone, why it's so important to focus on the customer, and what they need to do on mobile and how small iterations might be the best approach to making changes to mobile experiences. And make sure you stick around till the end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implemented effectively. Welcome to the show Taylor.
So you've had a very impressive career over the last 20 years in the digital space with a big emphasis on mobile. Can you tell me how you first got started in digital and mobile?
Taylor Webster (UX and Design Manager at Lowe’s): That's a great story. So, when I first got introduced to mobile in the way it is, I was actually at Macworld, many years ago and I was about 14 rows back when Steve Jobs came out and showed us the first iPhone. And when I saw that, that kind of changed my entire path and where I wanted to be in for the rest of my career in digital. I just fell in love with that device immediately and wanted to do anything I could to make sure users were able to get everything they could out of it. So then from that point forward, I took it straight back to the agency that I was working at the time and started diving deep into how can we start working for this, how can we get our clients on board with this, this is going to be huge. This is great and this is changing everything that we know today, as far as how you interact with these devices and I think we've seen that happen to.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's the best story I've ever heard of how someone first got engaged in mobile. I mean, what's better than seeing Steve Jobs launch the iPhone?
Taylor Webster: It was great, I was standing there with my Apollo 650W I think is what it was and I was snapping pictures on that and I was super excited, just being in that space. But, at the same time, seeing that that actually delivered and everybody thought they knew it was going to be and it was so much more. Now, the stories have come out since, but that is so much more, you know? It's a great world to play in.
Stephanie Cox: So as you think back from that moment to now, what do you think has been the biggest improvements that you've seen in the mobile space?
Taylor Webster: What's really funny about that. So, you bring together all these different technologies, like, so we have the ability to geolocate, we have the ability to do all these different things, but what I really think is awesome about it is, how we're now starting to actually integrate back in just natural voice processing and being able to actually talk to the phone again. So we've got separated from that and now we're coming back and it's spanning its way into other devices, with IoT devices and things like that and it's super cool to see that natural inputs start to gain traction again.
Stephanie Cox: Well it's funny that you mentioned that, right? It's like using the phone for what it was intended to be, which is voice initially. So it's fun to see it come full circle. So, when you think about mobile at Lowe's, how do you think about what you should do at a really high level, because there's so much you can do in the retail space?
Taylor Webster: Staying focused is a real challenge because you want to, you have to start at the customer. That's a way to really stay focused. What are customer pain points, what is a customer asking for, what does the customer need? And, of course, you want to sometimes leapfrog over and give the customer something they don't quite know that they need yet, so they can actually kind of build your experiences from there and branch out. But staying focused on that front. And if you're a retailer, you're a retailer, so you need to sell products really well. And the way to do that is to make sure you’re meeting your customers needs and staying on top of it. Like reducing as much friction as possible in that experience and making sure your product information is right. And talking to all the different departments across your company, so that you're getting your information and everything streamlined in the best way possible to deliver to the customer fast, when they want it. Because it's so important to keep the customer in the center.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think that's such a great point. I think a lot of times as marketers and mobile experts, we want to deliver an innovative, compelling experience for us and sometimes we forget to say, like what does my customer actually want? What's most important to them and sometimes it's a little different than maybe what we are thinking. So, I think it's so vital to just get back to get root of that, which is talking to the customer.
Taylor Webster: Absolutely, I mean, every year there's a new OS that comes out and when the OS comes out it has great new features. And some of those great new features we know are going to get adopted, but the true timeline that it takes for customers to adopt it and then adopt it in the industry that you actually are in, matters as well. So like the integration of Touch ID was huge for us, it was great. As customers they want to stay logged in again. And anything you can do to stay logged in and make that less friction, the better. But augmented reality and some of those things, yeah, we've played with it. We've done things and we've tried to find ways to make it a tool and less of a toy in our industry. But it really just doesn't have traction right now for where we stand. And that is not something that we will push forward with, maybe very, very hard because what's important is to make sure the customers can get their products and they can get what they need and how they need it with very little traction, in and out of the store. Bringing those two spaces together is critical. We're staying focused on that.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and I think it's so important, to your point earlier, on having a balance between delivering what the customer wants and then sometimes, right, leapfrogging that, but not going too far that you're not providing true value at the core of what you're trying to accomplish with a customer.
Taylor Webster: That's a real challenge. Knowing if you do leapfrog you don't want to go too far out, that they don't already, aren't already embracing the technology and now already using the technology in its full capacity. That's what helps keep us, have a gut check of why are we going too far ahead or do we need to kind of sit on this technology for a while and actually let it bake? In our industry, sometimes it's good to be the first out, but sometimes there's very little to gain from it in some cases, especially in the mobile market for us. You just don't see, there's such a wide range of people or a wide range of devices and you don’t want to leave anybody out in that interest sometimes.
Stephanie Cox: So, it's a great segway to my next question. So recently a couple months ago, I was at Lowes trying to buy a new washer and dryer and I found your native app to be super helpful in store because I could just grab it, scan the barcode of the washer and dryer I'm looking at, find the location of the Lowe's that had it and I could actually order it straight from my phone. And by the time I got to the other Lowe's, because mine didn't have it, it was already ready for me. Which personally, I loved. So one of the things that I think people fall victim to a lot is putting too much in their native mobile apps. How do you balance what gets in your native mobile app, what's meant more for your website? What's that kind of internal line of thinking that you guys use?
Taylor Webster: That's a good point that you point that out, that is a challenge for us. Like what's dotcom, what's mobile web, what's apps? We typically, at like a really high level draw the line at what can the app do that dotcom or web can't. And it seems like there are pieces of information that we can use from having these tiny computers in our hand that we can actually tap into and use that to sell the experience for the customer. That's what we tried to stay focused on, but then there's the core elements like product, product information, and pricing, and this straight up purchasing, that's going to be core across all of our interfaces and those need to work seamlessly and they need to work not necessarily identical, but need to work in a very close fashion. As far as the experience across all those, because that's an experience that you would expect from Lowe's, if you happen to hop from one interface to the other. Staying focused on those core elements and really just asking customers and seeing and being a UX specialist, in our company, is just asking the customers and following them and having that, reviewing what their actual tasks that they are trying to complete when they're in the store. What their real pain points and challenges are and then using all devices to find a way to smooth that over and make that as frictionless as possible.
Stephanie Cox: So when you think about measuring success overall at a high level, what are the metrics that you're thinking about for like your native mobile apps?
Taylor Webster: So with our consumer apps, for sure we have to track the revenue and stuff like that. Those were very important KPIs that we sell products. And that's one. And then we also have engagement metrics that we put in our apps to make sure that features are they being discovered? Are they being used? We have all kinds of KPIs that we put in there just like you would run through a dashboard and run information from that standpoint. On the other side, we also like to take our products out into the wild and actually interview customers, talk with customers and see how their feedback and get their use in that. We track our reviews and we read them diligently, respond as much as we can, and in our ratings, information on that just to see downloads and all the information that's out there available to us. Then, we put it all together to see if what we're delivering is actually meeting the demands of our customers. If not, they'll tell us and we react. We have a really good practice of iterating and reacting and trying to give our customers what they need, what they're asking for.
Stephanie Cox: So would you say that as you guys think about mobile it's a constant evolution? That you're constantly iterating on what you're delivering to customers, looking at what they're using, what they're not using, their feedback, their engagement. And then making small tweaks, big tweaks really just to help continually evolve that experience.
Taylor Webster: Yeah, we've seen that that's the best way to move forward. I mean, there's times when we will add something bigger that needs to add a whole new component of capability. But even in some rights, that's another iteration toward a new future for our app and for customers. To take those a step further, we have a whole slew of apps that we build directly for our associates in store, too. And we take that with the highest regard, we get at the same rigor we do our consumer apps with metrics and pieces on that front. It's time on task and how long it takes to complete certain inventory checks and different things like that.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I love that you get to do both the consumer facing and the internal apps. I think in a lot of other organizations that's separate teams that do it and there's so many great learnings that you can have from both of them that can really carry over.
Taylor Webster: Yeah, absolutely. And I've been fortunate to be tied to both our associates and our consumer mobile applications were pretty much my entire career at Lowe's so far. And there are so many learnings that we learn from our associates directly because they are my customer in some ways, as well. And they are my customer's customer. They have so many insights about what customers are doing when they come in stores and they're our number one resource, we're getting information about what changes we can do to actually help them actually provide a better service for customers as well.
Stephanie Cox: So thinking of your career mobile so far, can you just tell me if you do pick one story of how mobile went really well, what did that look like for you and why was that at a high level really successful?
Taylor Webster: Yes that's an easy one. So when I first came into Lowe's, about six years ago, one of the first products that I was working on delivering in our consumer mobile channels was bringing product finding to our customers. And in big box locations like stores like ours, it's about near impossible just to walk in and find something when you've never been there. And then navigating around any store that's, especially in large size and we were one of the first big box retailers to really push forward and deliver this on a grand scale. And we had product information for every product that we had listed digitally for every one of our stores. So you can imagine bringing that from the ground up, just all the different partners within the company that need to be aligned in. And how you got all that information into the screen, so that we can actually use it and then actually taking that to the customers and finding out how they interpret it, how they use it. And there've been many iterations on the ways that we show that badging, in ways that we have moved that around in screens, and the types of capabilities we given to our customers. And we still iterate on it today. It's a highly sought-for feature, but it's hardly ever mentioned unless they can't find it. So it's huge and it's a great way to, we all talk omnichannel today and now it's a term that we've been buzzing around for maybe four years or so, since that I can recollect. But part of that, this is one of those types of features that started to pave the road for that mentality and that thought. It's truly the customers at home, asking where this is product? So you've planned their purchase path when they come through or when they're in the store. I need to find you know this type of product, where is it? It's very quick and easy to find.
Stephanie Cox: Well and I found myself doing that all the time, especially if I just need to run in and get something or I have to send my husband to get something. I'm like, oh it's in aisle A29. And it's just, it's so much faster. But I think now, as consumers, I guess, thank you for bringing it to big box stores to begin with, because now everyone's adopted it and it's just so commonplace. But now it's an expectation. So one of the things I anticipate you're constantly thinking about, is all the enhancements in mobile tech that have happened over the last couple of years and are continuing to happen. So, I'm thinking like, chat bots, we already talked about AR, RCS, progressive web apps and more. How do you think about evaluating what new mobile tech you should think about and what's just not ready yet?
Taylor Webster: It all starts at your core customer base and then what your industry is. To me, it's this way I like to look at it and strip it all away, what is my main purpose here in my industry? For me at Lowe's, it's to sell products and to sell those products, ok? So what does my customer need? From a digital standpoint, I need to be able to visualize products. So yeah, AR is important to us and this was a hard thing about selling a product on like Lowe's.com or in an app or somewhere. Like, I don't know if it's going to fit. I don't know if it's the right color. It's a nice grill, but I don't want to buy the grill that has like this a bunch of burners on it and I set it on my patio. And now, I have no patio left because it's the whole size. AR has a great place for that. And I think we saw a lot of retailers coming through this past year with the Amazons and a bunch of other folks are really pushing that visualisation. We have too, we have it on our Android platform at the moment. But at the end of the day, our customer is ready to think about it in that light. Because that is a tool that can help a customer close the deal, per say, or feel comfortable, or they’re confident about a purchase that they're making. But we haven't really seen the adoption enough to say that customers are quite ready to use that technology, for that purpose. And so, we scale back and focus back into the core. Which is how do we help product information and finding and information and actually deals and whatever the other content the customers are actually seeking for. But, staying focused on what is your main purpose, having solid KPIs and solid purpose from the business plan, is really where it needs to bull out from. Into how you make decisions on that front. We're having challenges talking with customers and keeping up with the demands of customer service that's coming through from different channels. And maybe using chatbots is a way to relieve some of that pressure. Apply it in a way that actually improves the overall experience. Not a hope that it makes something neat or better. Take the hope out and actually do something that attaches to a real problem or pressure point that you see for a customer. Relieve it, use that software for that good.
Stephanie Cox: Well, or to your point earlier right, let's not latch on to new technology just because it's new and shiny let's do things that actually matter for our customers.
Taylore Webster: It is really hard, when it's new we don't know what they like or not. Sometimes it's better to not gamble in it, unless you're in an industry where you're able to stay in that area and you have the analytics that support it. My users are on the latest devices with the latest, and they stay updated on the latest OS, and I see them using adoption of these things and then go for it. There are some industries that can just go as they have that luxury.
Stephanie Cox: So, I know you mentioned iOS and Android and sometimes the discrepancy between the two. Do you guys think about that strategically? Do you try and keep them on parity? Does it really matter more about like your consumer base just looking different on each of the different operating systems?
Taylor Webster: Coming back to what I mentioned earlier, we have a core set of features that will apply to any interface that you would engage with. There are places where we fragment out and do things that are specific for iOS versus Android. We actually launched an Android Wear app at first before we actually moved into the Apple Watch, because it was actually out on the market first. And, we haven't made it into the Apple Watch world for a little while and we've got the product visualization and they are on Android. But then on iOS, we made a standalone app called Measure and it was a measuring tool. And it was a freebie that we created to give back to everybody else, to all of our customers or anybody needs to do a real quick two-point measuring. To say hey, how wide is this or how tall is this? Am I playing a regulatory game of cornhole? Just measure it out to make sure. That was our goal. It wasn't really an app that we built with the intention of selling a product for it or anything like that in the future. When we got to play with and see what the demand was and we built something that was useful and that we still use.
Stephanie Cox:I love that you didn't put it part of the native Lowe's app, right? You thought about like let's have a separate use for this. Let's not stick it in with everything else. And I think consumers really appreciate that.
Taylor Webster: It gives them the ability to choose if they need it and not have extra bloat on their devices. And people were conscious about their devices and in storage and storage isn't cheap, when it comes to phones.
Stephanie Cox: So, one of the things that you mentioned was making it easier for consumers to find a product or to get more information on that product. What role do you think things like QR codes or near field communication NFC, are going to have in that moving forward or even image recognition?
Taylor Webster: NFC is adopted more in the Android department, or operating systems and devices, but I still don't see a lot of the adoption there. Now in the industry, like all my associates out there. There's a lot more opportunity for near field communication and like inventory tracking. And this is just a technology that's existing in places. And today, where it could send us into a scanner across a whole bin of boxes and it'll tell you everything that's in it. If the NFC cards are attached to each of the boxes and tells you what's in them. And nobody's having to move anything, nobody's having to restock anything in those fronts. Just tell me what all is there right now and I'm going to log it all. So, I think there's some really strong points to be made in that front. But, image recognition that that's a whole different level, that opens up a whole new world of opportunities. Like, I could open my phone app in the scanner, scanned the room if there are visual markers in the room that could immediately start to pop up things. And I could have a refrigerator right in front of me. And I could actually open it up and it would recognize that refrigerator and actually give me that product information, without scanning the barcode, taking me to another page. I could see it pointing at the dial. This is what the dial does. You can, at that point, pull back into augmented reality and make it meaningful and in the moment. And actually have attached the information that the customer was actually trying to seek in that moment. I think that's powerful, and there's a lot of power, there's a lot of capabilities there. We still have to get past the hurdle of, will the customers actually do it right? Will they pull their camera out? Do they feel goofy doing that? That needs some testing.
Stephanie Cox: Well, it also needs to get to that point where they're not the only ones doing in the middle of an aisle. That tends to help! So, when you think about the future of mobile, where do you think it's headed?
Taylor Webster: I think about this often and I go in many different trains of thought. When I was speaking earlier about how voices is finally starting to come back around. When we used to use our phones to talk in them to someone else. And now, we're getting to the point where we're talking to our phones as an entity of its own. And now we're seeing that extracted further where we're talking to other types of devices. Which really starts to seem like, really get excited about the fact that we're actually going back to our natural input method away from these abstract methods like keyboards and things like that we need to to carry information to someone else in a different way. If we keep moving down this path of the screen getting smaller or disappearing altogether or maybe screens are separate from the device known. Purely hardware here, but there is this thing if we decouple the screen away from the actual processor and now the battery life could go on for way longer than it is today. It's sort of like what watches are kind of doing that, but that if I could just naturally speak to it and it works really well. I read this earpiece and a processor somewhere in my pocket or something like that visualizer could be, screens could be anywhere. You just walk up and fill up with what you need. That could be a commodity that's handed out. I see mobile actually starting to become less of a package. You know, here's this big thing you need to carry around. There are many components of that packed into it. I really can see it getting to a point where they start to put it back out and integrate back into our everyday lives in different ways.
Stephanie Cox: Taylor is probably the best story I've ever heard about how he got started in mobile. How many of us can actually say that we were at Macworld when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. I can tell you personally I am super jealous about experience. It's a moment that started this transformative shift in marketing and gave us a device that most of us can no longer imagine living without or could even be away from for more than a few minutes. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we take the education and apply it to your business.
There so many great insights to my conversation with Taylor that can really transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First, we all need to make sure we're still putting the customer at the center of everything we do. I know this probably sounds cliche to a lot of you and you've heard it a hundred maybe even a million times., but it seems that there's so many marketers out there today that still aren't doing it. Think back to the last initiative you implemented. Did you think about whether or not your customers truly wanted it? Hopefully it was easy for you to think back to that initiative and maybe even a couple before that and you're constantly thinking about numerous examples of how you incorporate customer Research into figuring out what that project was look like, and what to actually deliver. However, we also all know if we think about it honestly that their projects out there that marketers implement because they're so enamored, and a lot of times were so enamored with an idea, that we haven't even once thought about it from a customer's perspective. And occasionally these projects are successful, but a lot of times they fail and people are surprised and that's because we're not putting the customers' needs at the center. So when you think about starting with a customer for a mobile experience, you need to consider what that customer needs and what they want to do on mobile. And then really try and reduce as much friction as possible from that experience. While, you might inheritably know some of the information. It's vital that you're speaking with your customers on a regular basis and getting their direct feedback. And when I say regular, I mean regular. On a monthly, or ideally weekly, basis. And this can include anything from conducting quantitative surveys to hosting in person focus groups to talking to people, if you're in retail to customers in the store. If you have existing mobile experiences and you're looking to make improvements rather than create something new and don't forget to read the reviews of those experiences. If you have a native app, we all have app store reviews, go check them out, read them on a regular basis. Chances are your customers are already providing you with a lot of valuable feedback on this channel. And often times it's at the either peak moment of delight because you’ve done something great on that experience that they love or the moment of utter frustration where they're so frustrated because they can't do something that they want to do.
Another area you've got to consider is thinking about your front-line employees. They're interacting with your customers off and on a daily basis. They have a wealth of knowledge about customers that have been shared with them and they also have their own ideas of how you think the customer experience could be improved. So make sure you talk to them and value their input. Now once you have all of your if you back it's time to think about how to actually implement it. One of the points that Taylor made that really resonated with me was the idea of constant iteration and making small changes to see how customers react. As a marketer, I know sometimes I'm inclined to get feedback and I want to make substantial sweeping changes to address issues, but I really have been trying to caution myself on that because sometimes it doesn't have the intended results that I want. If I make too many changes, I'm going to lose the ability to see the impact of each of those changes because the results are muddy with everything else. And then I got to think about whether or not I'm going to overwhelm my customers with a large number of changes and potentially create new issues that didn't exist before. These are all concerns you've got to take into account when you think about implementing substantial changes to a mobile experience. And that's really why I'm a big advocate, as well as Taylor it sounded like, for making numerous iterations to allow you to truly know what's working. The benefit of this approach is that you'll get to see results reflective of the change and not necessarily influenced by other changes that you've made. Now, keep in mind a lot of times people are leery of doing this because they're like it's going to take forever then for me to make these big changes I need to. That's not the case everyone. It doesn't have to take forever. You can roll out iterations quickly. You just need to make sure that you're taking enough time to get data about each iteration before you put the new one out. And that's going to vary based on everyone's business. You also need to think about how often your customers are engaging with your mobile experiences and how fast they can consume changes so you can think about how that relates to the level and the speed at which raw iterations.
Next, don't forget what industries you’re in because what works for one industry may not work for yours. And that's okay. You have to consider what's relevant for your industry before you start implementing new technology features and others. This can feel like it's really at odds with this idea of looking at what other successful companies are doing and really using that to influence your decision making process. For me, I draw a ton of inspiration from other companies that are offered in a different market than me. As a B2B marketer, I find myself gleaning a ton of marketing inspiration from B2C brands because at the end of the day, we're all selling to people. However, there's a difference between drawing inspiration and using that inspiration to influence my marketing efforts, and taking what someone else is doing another industry and assuming it will work the same in mine. And part of that reason is because customers and industries are different. They have different expectations and they adopt consumer technology differently. For there are new operating system features that come out every year, and some of those features get adopted by consumers and their personal lives, but they're not willing to use that same technology in a specific use case, in a specific industry. One example is AR. So think about Pokemon go. How many people were walking around the different parts of the world with Pokemon go having their phone out for this experience? That became commonplace and accepted. But then if you look at other brands of implemented AR experiences in the retail sector, how many times do you see people out with their phones during an AR experience in an actual store? Not a ton. It doesn't mean that AR is not a valuable technology. It just means that a customer's willingness to use it in a specific industry varies a great deal. And a lot of times that's based on if the customer feels comfortable using that technology with your brand. So what it really boils down to is don't forget what the ultimate business goal is, and that you're serving in that goal. For retail this is selling products, for banking or giving me easy access to all of my accounts on my mobile device. If I'm doing something for my employees. It's likely about productivity and allowing them to do their work faster and better. So no matter how Innovative the idea is or the technology, make sure you don't lose sight of what you're really trying to accomplish.
Finally, we've all felt this ongoing struggle, or battle, between what features do include on our website versus are native app, and how to balance the disparities between operating systems. I'm looking at you Android and Apple. While there's some technological advancements with progressive web apps that are making it easier to develop one digital experience that really works the same across different operating systems and different form-factors. If you're not adopting progressive web apps and you're going to have this ongoing struggle. So how do you really solve it? Well it starts with the first key concept. Each company is core functionality that needs to be reflective in your digital experience as regardless of the form factor or operating system. In Lowes case is eCommerce and product finding. Customers need to be able to purchase products online and find them easily in store. It doesn't matter if it's on the website or the app, and it doesn't matter where they are or what devices are using. Now they don't have to work exactly the same across every experience, but they need to feel the same conceptually. So if I do it on the website and then I go to your app, I get the sense that I'm still buying from Lowe's. So consider your core functionality to be table stakes for your experiences. Then you're going to want to draw the line between what you can do, especially on native mobile, that you can't do on traditional web. This makes it a little easier to draw a line of delineation between the two from a technology perspective, but it doesn't give you the full picture of what you should do because you should not, and I repeat should not, try and stuff everything in there that you can do from a technology perspective. It creates clunky and not user-friendly experiences. And this is why you gotta get back to focusing on the customer and think about what they would want to do on that device in various aspects of their customer journey with your brand. An earlier statement I've made I'm going to repeat it again: ask for customers. It's so important. Don't just rely on your opinions. No matter how good they are. This should allow you to start figuring out what makes the most sense for each channel and take it one step further for operating systems. I think Taylor had a really great way of handling this. He mentioned a few examples of where they've tested out features and their Android native mobile app because that functionality was already available on Android and not on iOS yet. This allowed them to get a better sense of how customers might adopt the technology if they were to expand it to iOS once Apple made that functionality available. Now, I want to caution everyone there are some nuances between Android and iOS users just in terms of how they consume technology and what they use so it's not a true apples-to-apples comparison, but it can't give you some directional data that's helpful. Now on to my mobile marketing challenge for the week. If you haven't thought about how to better integrate voice and your mobile experiences than you're likely way behind. We're getting back to the original function of the phone with voice and we're expanding into things like Alexa, Google home, and more. In fact, voices with another key area focus at CS again this year. So it's time for all of us to figure out how voice is going to work for our brand and put together a plan to actually make it happen really quickly.
I’m Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast until then be sure to visit Lumavate.com and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.