Bricks to Bytes: Lowe’s Chandhu Nair reveals how data strategy has transformed retail operations
Chandhu Nair, Senior Vice President, Data Analytics and Computational Intelligence (DACI) & Marketing Technology at Lowe’s Companies Inc., discusses the significance of data in Lowe's digital transformation and shares insights on technology trends in the home improvement retail industry.
The first Lowe's store opened in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1921. The American home improvement retailer has come a long way since then. The FORTUNE 50 home improvement company has undergone fast-paced digital transformation and introduced many industry firsts with the advanced use of retail tech, data science and new-age technologies.
In a candid and insightful conversation with the team at YourStory, Chandhu Nair, Senior Vice President, DACI & Marketing Technology at Lowe’s Companies Inc., discusses his journey at Lowe's. As the Senior VP, Nair now leads a global team supporting artificial intelligence-led data products and platform strategy, as well as self-serve analytics for the organisation. He is also responsible for omnichannel marketing technology enabling personalisation, loyalty experiences, and Lowe’s One Roof Media Network products.
YourStory (YS): Please walk us through your experience and your work with Lowe’s in India and the US.
Chandhu Nair (CN): I've been at Lowe's for three years. I began as a consultant and later moved into roles involving marketing, digital, and product technology. About a year ago, I took on a broader role overseeing data, AI, and our Innovation Labs. It's exciting to see how these aspects come together, with data playing a central role in connecting various parts of our business. My team is spread across the US and India. We have a unique structure with functional teams, including core teams responsible for driving products like marketing, data, and AI.
YS: Can you share some of your team’s specific achievements in the last three years?
CN: I’m incredibly proud of the teams I’ve had the privilege to build both in the US and India. For example, in the martech space we had a small team when I joined, and I'm proud to see how we've scaled it significantly in terms of both the team size and the value we deliver. We've achieved remarkable milestones in terms of products and platforms.
One standout example is Lowe's One Roof Media Network (LORMN), which was conceived and developed in India. It's one of the fastest-growing media network platforms in our portfolio and in just two years, we are seeing significant outcomes. Another noteworthy product is MVP PRO, our customer loyalty programme for PRO customers, which serves as a robust data product, providing us with a comprehensive customer 360-degree platform.
YS: How do you think data strategy has evolved at Lowe’s and where does it fit into your omnichannel strategy?
CN: Data is the cornerstone of our digital transformation efforts. Our revamped strategy follows a three-part flywheel approach. First, we've bolstered data collection through Lowe's.com, cloud migration, and our omnichannel platform, amassing data from various touchpoints. Second, we're shifting from reactive to proactive data consumption, facilitating standardised data usage for informed decision-making within the enterprise.
Artificial intelligence is the third piece of our strategy, leveraging data and insights for real-time decision-making. This enhances customer and associate experiences across our systems, ultimately closing the loop on our omnichannel strategy and continually improving our operations.
YS: What inspired your transition from running a startup, leveraging over 20 years of tech experience, to joining Lowe's? Also, how has Lowe's commitment to technology-led innovation influenced your journey?
CN: With a tech background spanning 20 years, including startup experience and investments, my transition from running a startup to joining Lowe's was a significant shift. I was drawn by the speed and scale at which Lowe's was transforming, driven by a commitment to technology-led innovation from our CEO, Marvin Ellison, and CIO, Seemantini Godbole.
Lowe's has seen remarkable growth over the last five years under this new executive leadership team, marked by embracing the agility of a startup culture and a relentless focus on problem-solving. My visits to India have continually inspired me with its entrepreneurial spirit, a quality I can relate to here at Lowe's.
YS: How can organisations effectively balance the collection of data with the implementation of a robust data governance strategy?
CN: In our organisation, we have dedicated teams responsible for core data science, data governance, and data privacy functions. These teams operate under a single leader and are quite substantial. We focus on collecting the right data while adhering to relevant data regulations like Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), particularly concerning consumer and financial data. We've established a framework that involves collaboration between our technology teams, cross-functional partners, software use and audit teams, and legal teams to ensure consistent management of this foundational aspect. Our commitment also extends to transparency with our customers, setting clear expectations regarding data collection and usage.
YS: How does Lowe's One Roof Media Network fit into your customer marketing strategy?
CN: Retail media networks aren't a new concept and many players already own ad networks. At Lowe’s, our brand partners are also continually looking for new ways to attract and engage a complex audience. However, a changing media landscape and the diversification of complex customer journeys have made it challenging for them to connect at the right touchpoints.
The convergence of omnichannel retail data with marketing channels is what brands are looking for and that’s what we built. A best-in-class team here at Lowe’s India has built a framework for LORMN, making it the fastest-growing network in the market. In just two years, we have partnered with more than 200 brands. The significance lies in providing our brand and vendor partners the chance to effectively showcase their products to the right audience at the right time.
YS: When it comes to successful personalisation and loyalty experiences in retail, what is Lowe’s getting right? How is it implementing this?
CN: At Lowe's, we cater to two distinct customer segments whose needs differ significantly: DIY customers and PRO customers. DIY customers are hands-on with home improvement, while PRO customers, like electricians and plumbers, seek efficiency to maximise earnings. To serve our PRO customers better, we created the MVP PRO loyalty programme in-house.
This programme takes an omnichannel approach since many PRO customers prefer shopping in our stores. It seamlessly connects their online and in-store experiences, offering a unified wallet and deserved benefits. We also provide a top-tier credit programme for PRO customers, vital for bulk purchases. Our focus is on delivering a unique omnichannel platform, ensuring convenience for PRO customers whether they shop online or in-store.
YS: How do you see the future of tech in the home improvement sector? Also, with sustainability becoming a significant consideration, how is the integration of diverse technologies shaping the retail tech landscape?
CN: The retail sector is thriving on technology to elevate the customer experience. In the realm of home improvement, generative AI technology stands out as a game-changer, simplifying the journey from inspiration to project completion.
Technology's influence extends across the entire retail value chain, impacting strategy, merchandising, stocking, and sales. Advancements in smartphone technology, such as the match protocol, are reshaping how we interact with smart homes.
Sustainability is another significant consideration in the evolving retail tech landscape, with a diverse range of technologies beyond just AI. In the home improvement niche, the shift toward smart homes is a central focus.
YS: What would your advice be to someone who's looking to build a career in the data science space?
CN: The new generation of our workforce should note that every role, including those of traditional data scientists and engineers, is evolving. AI is now integrated into these positions, automating various tasks and enhancing capabilities. As technology continues to progress, new professionals must adapt and swiftly acquire new skills and expand their horizon of learning.
This era offers exciting opportunities to participate in a transformative shift, akin to the emergence of the internet or the mobile ecosystem during the iPhone era. My advice to those entering this field is to stay curious, be open to unlearning and learning new methods, and wholeheartedly embrace this era of transformation.