Among marketers that use multiple selling channels—stores and the Internet, for instance—consistency is a top goal. Because so many customers—and especially the most profitable ones—use multiple channels, it’s important that branding, service policies, and merchandising carry through from one medium to the next.
But some multichannel companies live by the adage “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Home Depot is one of them.
Home Depot stores are stocked to the rafters with lumber, plumbing fixtures, tools, and paint. But you won’t find a Homedics Anti-Gravity Lounger with Moving Shiatsu Massage System in a store, or a Memory Foam Mattress, or a Keepsakes Iron Easel for displaying art. You will find those items—plus dinnerware, outdoor recreation products, and even pet supplies, on HomeDepot.com.
Shelley Nandkeolyar, president, Home Depot Direct Brands, isn’t concerned that visitors to the Website might be disappointed that they can’t find all the same merchandise in their local store. As he sees it, customers “gave us permission” to add the products to the Website (and by extension, to the print catalog) by way of their search results.
Home Depot reviews the onsite search terms and results weekly to see what people are looking for. A surprising number of site visitors were looking for items not carried in the stores, such as patio tables, upscale grills, and dog dishes.
“The first thing we do is make sure we have the base categories covered,” Nandkeolyar explained at an eTail 2005 session in Philadelphia earlier this month. “I think customers would be very disappointed it they came online and didn’t find the core products they’re looking for….If you really want to be customer-centric, you need to be data driven.”
The inconsistencies between the retail and direct product lines don’t seem to be bothering consumers any. During the past two years, Home Depot’s direct (Web and catalog) house file grew from 700,000 names to 8 million. HomeDepot.com receives 9.5 million Web visitors a month, and 57% of site visitors who were able to find what they wanted online bought from Home Depot—either online, via the call center, or in a store—within three days.