"INNOVATION IS MORE THAN JUMPING ON THE LATEST TRENDS. AT LOWE'S, IT IS A MINDSET" - ARSHYA LAKSHMAN
In conversation with YourStory, Arshya Lakshman, Head of Innovation at Lowe’s India revealed why technology and innovation is at the heart of everything Lowe’s does and how the team encourages an innovative mindset through initiatives like Catalyze.
Friday March 24, 2023,
8 min Read
How does– a retail giant remain a leader in its field, standing shoulder to shoulder with startups and next-gen companies alike? The secret is innovation, revealed Arshya Lakshman. For years, the team has been leveraging innovation to build the future of home improvement. “We take pride in being a Fortune 50 company, carrying a 100-year-old legacy, but innovating at the speed of a young startup, delivering and deploying products and solutions at scale with a very, very strong tech team,” she revealed.
Innovation and technology form the secret sauce behind Lowe’s omnichannel success. It enables Lowe’s to not just stay relevant, but also predict trends and solve what customers may need tomorrow. Be it their ‘Next Gen Self-Checkout’ option at stores, their authorized PUIS locker or ‘Measure Your Space’ feature on the app, there is innovation in every new initiative. To shed light on this innovative spirit and their new flagship program called Catalyze, we spoke to Arshya.
Excerpts from the interview:
YourStory: What is the role of technology to foster innovation, and how does that benefit a retail tech company?
Arshya Lakshman (AL): For Lowe’s, technology is the cornerstone of creating effective omnichannel touchpoints and a seamless unifying shopping experience for customers. There is tech involved everywhere - there's demand forecasting, personalization, security, payments and so on. Beyond product assortment and merchandising that forms the bedrock of any retail shopping experience, technology helps in personalizing the experience for customers, on how, when, where they interact with the brand. At the same time, it enables our business and associates to excel at what we do and provide the best solutions for growth.
Home improvement retail is complex with varied audience segments and home improvement retail is sure to undergo a massive overhaul in the next decade. The hyper convergence of different channels will set the base for the next decade. While retailers will have to expand their tech stacks, AI and data science will help eliminate that friction with customers at every touch point. Concepts like BOPIS (Buy Online Pick up In Store), or facial and voice recognition self-checkouts, will become mainstream sooner than we think. Robot assistants and cashier-less stores are also set to become a reality.
At Lowe's, our approach is to look at business problems that need to be solved and take the best possible tech and innovation strategy. We take pride in being a Fortune 50 company, carrying a 100-year history, and innovating at the speed of a young startup, delivering and deploying products and solutions at scale with a very, very strong tech team.
YS: Can you give us some examples of how innovation looks like at Lowe’s?
AL: Innovation has been part of our brand’s core, going as back as innovative decision-making during the World War II when Lowe’s then joint-owner Carl Buchan re-focused the company solely on home improvement products, anticipating the dramatic increase in construction post the war. For example, we all know how the pandemic was a very challenging time for everyone and how the home improvement business suddenly became very critical for customers who started spending more time at home. Lowe's introduced curbside pickup, buy online pick up in store, self-checkout, contactless delivery store lockers and many other solutions to provide what our customers needed most. We had measure your space and ‘kitchen visualizer’ on our app, where you could see your space in 3D before making a decision to purchase. Even on the store fronts, we automated customer counting capability by simply using existing store asset protection cameras and computer vision algorithms.
Over the years, to not just stay relevant but also to be ahead of time and competition, we have kept a check on the market, we are constantly understanding the pulse, the macro trends, listening to our customers, understanding what they want today, and what they expect tomorrow. By delivering and solving for future demands is also how we are shaping the future of home improvement retail. We’re defining how future homes would look like.
Alongside our tech capabilities, we have also been investing heavily on emerging technologies and doing some pioneering work in the space - take for example the launch of our Digital Twin and our work in the metaverse space. Furthermore, while technology is inherent in every capability that drives our business, we at Lowe’s believe innovation goes beyond just tech and we strive to make everything we do innovative, by design. For example, we use innovative planogramming at stores for better customer CX, we use listening tools and warning systems developed in-house to enable our HR teams, we use virtual agents to elevate associate experience and many such examples that go beyond tech innovation come to mind.
YS: How has Lowe’s built this culture of innovation in the organization?
AL: Innovation is the “mindset” with which we approach how we work on a daily basis. We innovate with our associates and nurture a culture that inspires associates to innovate. Our approach is to look at business problems and adopt the right tech solution. We hire people who have the attitude of customer obsession, people who wonder how we can make things better, those who take action and deliver results, showing courage in difficult times.
In fact, our innovation program Catalyze empowers our associates to explore the potential to innovate internally. So, I think the way we hire people is to ensure that even business as usual is always looked at as an opportunity for innovation. That's probably what creates a very exciting, buzzing energy around Lowe’s.
YourStory: You just mentioned your recently launched program called Catalyze. Can you shed more light here?
AL: We launched Catalyze in December 2022 and it's Lowe's India’s latest flagship program designed to build and scale our innovation portfolio. We launched it to address a two-fold purpose - foster internal innovation by conducting sprints and hackathons, giving associates the chance to actual innovation projects that will impact Lowe's growth. Alongside this, Catalyze is an open platform for external startups to build lasting relationships with us for exponential impact. We are looking at long lasting partnerships with startups in and around India. I strongly believe mature organizations and start-ups can foster a great symbiotic and powerful relationship. While large companies have access to the market and a brand loyalty that goes very far (and in Lowe’s case scale of 1700+ stores and 17million shoppers), startups are driven by innovation andwith ideas that need to be tested at scale. I think large organizations such as Lowe’s India can play the role of mentors and provide that perfect scalable testbed.
For Catalyze, our five focus areas are immersive omni-channel experiences, accelerated fulfillment, future homes, marketing - tech and PRO customers, and emerging tech and innovation in and around the areas of AI/ML, metaverse, robotics, material sciences, sustainable products, etc. We are inviting startups across the ecosystem to build partnerships as well as build the future of home improvement retail together by giving what our customers want today and expect tomorrow.
YS: What have been your key learnings at Lowe’s?
AL: One of my biggest learnings has been the importance given to the agility of innovation. I keep hearing about so many different platforms, products and solutions that are launched from internal teams on a daily basis. At Lowe’s, I’ve learnt that a large company can truly be an omnichannel retailer by being obsessed with customers and their tech.
I also learned that a giant organisation can drive continued success through constant evolution. I see how our teams are always thinking about making tomorrow better along with their willingness to learn, grow, and listen to the industry, market and customers. It is also crucial to understand that your tech is most important, because we're not just a retail company, but an omnichannel retail company, and tech is critical in driving this.
YS: As a woman in tech, what message do you have for women entrepreneurs in India who want to make a mark in the tech industry?
AL: There is no one stopping you, except yourself. You have to learn the tools, you have to meet the right people, you have to continuously invest in yourself and grow constantly. A lot of women stop investing in themselves after a certain point, and start investing in the family, children, and their spouse's career but there needs to be a balance. Be kind to yourself, don't compare yourself or your growth or your position with anyone else, especially with those who don't have career breaks. Enjoy the journey, because when you reach the destination, you will want to have that journey all over again.
For more information on Lowe’s Catalyze, write to Lowe’s at [email protected]
Have an innovation mindset? Explore careers at Lowe’s India.