How Lowes.com Disengages Customers – A Live Case Study

by Dana Lookadoo on September 9, 2011

Shop without opening an account on Lowes.com? FORGET IT! Our shopping experience on Lowe’s website took over 2 hours and an exercise in extreme patience. The live ecommerce case study was unplanned and unwanted. It started with a trip to a retail store. We thought it ended with my husband, an epitome of patience, throwing his arms up in frustration and saying,

“You have to write a blog post about this crappy experience of shopping on Lowe’s website! I’m cancelling my unwanted account immediately!”

As of the publishing of this post (Friday night, 9/9), the purchase of the refrigerator is not 100% complete. We STILL do not have confirmation of the purchase 3 days later! (I hope this doesn’t turn into a sequel.)

Below is the real-life ecommerce case study on how Lowe’s succeeds in disengaging customers.

From Disengagement to Engagement to Disengagement

My parents’ refrigerator took a dump Tuesday morning, 9/6/2011. My Mom immediately went to Lowe’s retail store. She didn’t really know what to look for, and no one offered to help her. She didn’t know and couldn’t tell they had an extended Labor Day Weekend sale on all appliances. She walked in and walked out.

Disengaged!

In-store customer lost.

I visited Lowes.com that evening and WHALLAH! Refrigerators were on sale. Tuesday was the last day!

Lowes.com Sale - Engaged

Lowes.com Sale - Engaged!

Engaged!

15% OFF Appliances – Extended 1 Day Only

I helped my Mom, over the phone, navigate Lowes.com. Given that her experience in understanding how to use the Internet is at pre-101 level, we resorted to screensharing to walk her through the shopping experience. (It was too confusing for her.) With Join.me, she could watch my laptop screen and make decisions about her new refrigerator.)

Is my Mom’s inability to figure out where to go on Lowe.com the Web designer’s fault? Hard to say. But most definitely, few site visitors at the “beginning” level would have been able to walk successfully through Lowe’s checkout process.

The sale was ending in a few hours. We remained motivated and engaged to buy a new refrigerator while they were still on sale with free delivery.

Sorting & Information Architecture

We didn’t want to buy a refrigerator that was too tall for the space. The website offered multiple navigation choices to sort by manufacturer, price, dimensions, etc. We narrowed the options by sorting by height. Nice job on the sort options, Lowes!

Actually, the overall Information Architecture – Home > Kitchen > Refrigerators – made it very easy to find the perfect unit that would fit.

Engaged!

We found a Whirlpool side-by-side refrigerator with the features they desired at 1 hour into the research/buying process, FINALLY!

We added it to the cart.

Wait! What’s this? We need an account?

Disengagement began…

Fortunately, there was some fine print that comforted us that we could check out as a guest. <sigh of relief>

Lowes.com Account Login

Lowes.com Account Login - No Account? No Login

I did not want to create an account to buy a refrigerator for my Mom (or myself).

Dear Ecommerce Merchants,

DO NOT make a shopper create an account to purchase. It’s one of the biggest causes for shopping cart dropout!

With the assurance that no account was needed, we forged ahead.

Re-engaged

We proceeded to checkout.

Product Images (or lack thereof)

Questions arose.

Aren’t there more images?

What did the inside of the refrigerator look like?

My Mom and Step-Dad doubted if this is what they really wanted. They weren’t 100% sure. It’s a lot of money to spend without seeing more.

Each product page offers only 1 image with zoom and no alternate image views:

Lowes.com Product Page - No Additional Images

Lowes.com Product Page - No Additional Images (Caveat: screenshot taken after sale ended)

Only a plethora of textual information is provided via tabs. NONE OF THIS helped my Mom visualize what the refrigerator looked like – the type of shelving, door storage, crisper drawer configuration, etc.

Note to Ecommerce Merchants

You need to appeal to all senses and leave no questions unanswered to keep the shopper from becoming disengaged and clicking away from your site.

  • For the visual learner and emotional shopper, pictures sell!
  • The logical reasoning learner likes to research and doesn’t need images. For them, tabs with detailed descriptions and specs sell.

Disengaged and questioning…

Where was the Live Chat to answer questions?

My Mom still had time to run back to Lowe’s to see it in person and talk with a salesperson.

Lowe's Customer Service Number

Lowe's Customer Service

OK, let’s call the local store to see if they have it in stock.

Lowe’s national Customer Service phone number offered a lengthy menu and store locator. However, there was no way to connect to a local store or find a store’s phone number. The system sent us BACK to Lowes.com!

Disengaged again!

  • A quick trip to Google to find the phone number.
  • A call to the store and quick chat with the Appliance department, who told us the refrigerator was “special order” and not in stock.
  • Back to Lowes.com to look at it one more time.
Below is the “welcome” message we received:
Lowes.com - Shopping Cart Expired

Lowes.com - Shopping Cart Expired

Our shopping cart EXPIRED in the time it took to find the elusive store phone number and speak with a live person!!

Disengaged and FRUSTRATED!

BUT… that 15% discount was expiring at midnight. It’s now 7:45 p.m. Should she buy, sight unseen?

Motivated Buyers

We started over with the shopping process, found the Whirlpool refrigerator, and added it to the cart again. Guess what? Now we had 2 units in the cart! <sigh> At least that was easy to fix.

This was turning into a live ecommerce case study!

My parents, watching via Join.me, didn’t understand why the screen was moving around so much. What was the problem? It was all getting very confusing to them. They then decided it was too big of a purchase to not be sure of what they were buying, and they were getting tired.

Heck, they only had 4 hours to save $150, but the savings was not enough to convince them this was the right unit for them. They wanted to see what it looked like and couldn’t, so they were going to give up.

It was time to find images.

Refrigerator Image by AJ Madison

Refrigerator Image by 'AJ Madison - Your Appliance Authority'

Back to Google…

I searched for the manufacturer and model number.

Lo and behold! I found a site that had a picture of the inside! WOW!

Not only did the picture of the refrigerator show the inside, but AJMadison.com had “staged” it with fruits, veggies, fresh and frozen food.

My Mom and Step-Dad were able to visualize how much food it would hold. They NOW realized this was perfect for them, even a little bigger than their current refrigerator.

They were SOLD!

Thank you, AJ Madison. You really are the “appliance authority!” Unfortunately, your analytics data will only register 1 visit and no sale. Lowes.com’s analytic will never show that you get attribution credit for finalizing the sale.

Back to Lowes.com…

We proceeded through the checkout.

  • Entered shipping information and instructions
  • Entered billing information
  • Realized we needed to edit the shipping information – how?
  • Hit the back button
  • Started over
  • Finally re-entered credit card details

“There was an error processing your order. Error code 51.”

WHAT?

Disengaged AGAIN!

By this time, I asked my husband to take over. My patience had worn thin.

He tried changing names – maybe there was a mismatch.

He tried changing credit cards – maybe it was because some cards require the same shipping and billing info.

NO LUCK!

By this time, my parents were off the phone, off the computer. They had no idea how much more hassle ensued. We were left STRUGGLING to give Lowe’s our money!

Lowe's Customer Service Number

Lowe's Customer Service

The only message the website gave us about our “error code 51” was that we needed to call the phone number on the checkout page for help.

Ring. Ring.

Customer Service was CLOSED! Customer Service is only open during regular hours east coast time.

Dear Lowes.com,

Why did you tell us to call them if no one was there?

Have you not considered customizing error messages based of location and time of day? You already had our ZIP code and knew our time zone!

And while you are at it, write those error messages in English rather than computer code!

Totally DISENGAGED!

But, the sale was ending… If we were not highly motivated, we would have simply been another statistic, part of the billions of dollars of lost ecommerce revenue due to shopping cart difficulties.

MULTIPLE iterations later, we tried the only thing we had not done – CREATE AN ACCOUNT.

Order complete! <relieved>

Dear Lowe’s,

You lied to us when you said we could purchase as a guest!!  Instead of telling us why our order would not complete, you gave us an error code 51 that meant nothing to us. You sent us into what seemed like an endless loop, a comedy of errors!

You also gave us a deliver date of 9/13 during the checkout process. Upon completion, you added a week and changed the date of delivery to 9/20!

2 Days Later…

I’m spending my vacation time writing this blog post, and I was ready to hit Publish. Then I started getting nervous. We had…

  • No email confirming the order
  • No transaction activity on the credit card
  • No ability to log in to the Lowe.com account

Now we have to research if our order had really been completed!

We try to get back into the UNWANTED Lowe’s account. We get the following error:

Lowes.com Application Error

Lowes.com Application Error

Great. We didn’t want the account, now we can’t get in!

After this technical difficulty passed, we found that we didn’t even have an account! The email address was not on file!

No Email on File!

No Email on File!

And now we have to call “Customer Care,” yet again!

Disengaged and Nervous

We called. After 7 minutes on hold, “Jessica” could not find our order!

Customer Service acknowledged there was an error with Lowes.com, and the problem was their fault. We’re told the local store will call within 24 hours to let us know if they will uphold the sale price.

My parents have no idea about what has transpired and think they are getting a new refrigerator on 9/13, 15% off, and with free delivery…

What bugs me most is that we’re wasting valuable time on our vacation because of Lowes.com!

Lowe’s Calls Us

“Jerry” from Folsom Lowe’s calls us 2 hours later. (That was much better than 24!) He guarantees he’ll uphold the sale price and free delivery. HURRAY!

  • He explains the importance of ordering the $9 stainless steel connection hose, just in case the old one breaks when taking out the old refrigerator.
  • He offers an extended 4-year warranty for $109, making it a total 5-year warranty. Sounds good!

(Why were these things not explained on the website? The site’s warranty was $69 for 1 year!)

Engaged!

Shipping information… Billing information… Credit card number… Phone & email…

We’re now looking at a delivery of 9/15.

3 Days Later

Three days after the online store purchase and 1 day after speaking with Lowe’s in Folsom, we STILL have not received email confirmation of our order.

Disengaged and nervous again

I’m hitting “Publish” and will be calling “Customer Care” ONE MORE TIME to make sure they have our money and that my parents get their refrigerator!

The live ecommerce case study continues…

Dear Lowe’s,

Your ecommerce system gave me an opportunity to think a lot more about shopping cart usability and dropout, accuracy of analytics and attribution, and what it really takes to create customer loyalty.

The only reason we returned to your online store is that we were highly motivated by the sale. Otherwise, we would have given up and would have saved several hours of vacation time!

The checkout process on Lowes.com is simply too painful!

Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment

Shopping cart purchases are rarely straight-forward. Large purchases are usually the result of multiple touch points.

Merchants who sell large-ticket items MUST do everything possible to engage, educate, and nurture the customer throughout the process. Most of all, you must gain the buyer’s trust!

I’ll be back to write more about best practices for ecommerce checkout process another time and to let readers know if the refrigerator actually does arrive.

If you have any experiences or tips for Lowes.com, please share! Let’s see if they are “listening” to social media and open to feedback.

UPDATE: 9/14/11

  1. The refrigerator arrived!! It was efficiently installed by Lowe’s delivery. My parents are very happy with it!
  2. The receipt and warranty information arrived in the mail today as well.
  3. Lowe’s is listening. Brad, their Director of Social Media, commented below.

Dear Lowe’s,

We’ll be watching your site and look forward to the improvements.

Feel free to reach out if you want any feedback. Many of us in the industry will be interested in how this live ecommerce case study turns out. Hopefully, the result will be an improved shopping experience while also helping you make more money!

Engaged and will attempt shopping at Lowes.com again!

Yo!  Yo!  Please share & engage if you like this page:

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lyena Solomon September 9, 2011

It should not be this hard to give a merchant your money. It should not require a degree in computer science to dodge all error codes while navigating through the checkout process. It should not be necessary to put your life on hold to visit the website and the store and to call.

It comes to mind, that in the frenzy of website optimization, SEM and SEO,, Lowes neglected to scrutinize the most important part of the money-making process – the actual transaction. e-commerce sans commerce.

I hope the refrigerator delivery and installation is less painful, Dana. Uh, what a mess. Thanks for sharing the story.

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 10, 2011

Lyena, your insights enough are worthy of a blog post! EXACTLY!

It appears that Lowe’s is making money on the shear volume of traffic. I imagine a view of their analytics would show multiple places in the checkout process where consumers are repeatedly dropping out of the sales funnel. Trust is not gained in the sales process. They’re brand name, rather than the ecommerce process, is making them money. It appears to be enough that they are OK with leaving money on the table. Imagine how much more money they would make with usability studies and optimization testing!

Reply

Syed September 12, 2011

I couldn’t find the % of revenues they generate online but looking at HomeDepot’s revenue sources from different channels, I am guessing they get less than 3% of their total sales from their website and that probably explains the neglect on their part, but its no excuse to lag off on that front. I think once a company fails in one channel, it could potentially lose those customer sin the other channels…have an effect its core line indirectly and not even know about it. Perhaps, even you and your folks have bad taste with them and would prefer to go HomeDepot or other stores even if shopping offline?

If Lowe’s was close to being as ‘user-friendly’ as OfficeDepot.com or even Overstock.com…I am sure their online sales would have improved significantly even at same traffic levels.

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 12, 2011

Syed, you are spot on! We’ve already had the exact same feeling. We began a garage clean-out and reorganization process this past weekend and need some cabinetry and/or organization supplies. We’ll be going to Home Depot instead!

Companies like this who don’t take the time to improve usability of their websites show they don’t really care about the site visitor. Not making them user-friendly generates a distaste for their brand as a whole. It also makes one feel as if they are a leviathan, and that they are just so big it doesn’t matter.

I also agree about OfficeDepot.com and Overstock.com! It’s obvious they care about the shoppers. Heck, look at us praising them!

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

Reply

Rob Jones September 13, 2011

I think one of my biggest beefs with trying to buy anything online is the meaningless error message.

Additional points go to the error message that seems to imply that whatever happened was somehow my fault (‘input failure!’ ‘bad request!’), or indicates a course of action which doesn’t actually apply, like clearing my cookies when the problem has nothing to do with my browser, or hitting the back button (and killing all of the information I’ve already provided).

These things give me an extra layer of happy warmth when trying to do the seemingly impossible, like exchange money for goods and services on the Internet in 2011. They make me feel on the inside like what Jack Nicholson looked like at the end of The Shining.

This is why usability expertise needs to offset everything that happens online. And it seems like there aren’t nearly as many of these saintly, empathetic people to go around, especially where the big retail sites are concerned. Empathy is really what’s missing in the story you told on the part of Lowe’s, who’s business should be driven by it whether online or off. Technology always needs a little bit of humanity in there to make it really sing.

Thanks for the post, and I hope things work out OK. :-)

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 13, 2011

Rob,

You are spot on! We felt we had done something wrong on Lowes.com when receiving the error message. I had not thought about a Jack Nicholson parallel until now, but that’s how we felt. It was painstaking, and we have talked about this situation every day since.

I know a little about your company, and it’s obvious that you have spent A LOT of time thinking about the people visiting and shopping on your site. So your insight means even more. I appreciate your empathy. You stepped into my shoes in understanding how I felt as a shopper. No, Lowe’s has not considered such or walked through the process to test it either.

UPDATE: Lowe’s FINALLY charged our credit card. We have not received and email or written confirmation or delivery date. However, they finally took out money, so we assume a refrigerator is on its way!

Thanks much!

Reply

Scott Van Achte September 14, 2011

Syed, if their online sales account for 3% roughly, WITH these issues, it makes me wonder how much higher it may be without these issues.!

Dana, I have to say you must be the most patient person on the planet. I would have abandoned them long before ordering, and just paid the extra $$ to buy in store at one of their competitors. (many will price match if you can find the identical product).

And while it would go ignored, I would probably email/mail the highest level executive I could find. I had a NIGHTMARE experience with Bell ExpressVu, and ultimately emailed the CEO! It got to his assistant, and they fixed my problem! I was impressed that they solved the issue, but VERY aggravated that it took emailing the CEO directly to get the service I deserved….

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 14, 2011

Scott, my husband said the same thing about the sale. We would have gone to Home Depot if we were not on vacation ~500 miles away. The cost of the refrigerator is actually much higher given opportunity cost based on time spent in the shopping cart, trying to log back into our new account that didn’t exist, running down the sale that didn’t complete, making phone calls, etc. Thanks for your insight about escalating such issues and will keep that in mind for the future.

We must give huge kudos to Lowe’s Social Media team for listening and commenting!

Reply

Brad September 14, 2011

Hi Dana:

I am the Director of Social Media at Lowes.com. We are listening and did see that you had an unfortunate experience and we’d like to address it.

First, we’d like to apologize for the frustrations you and your parents had with our Lowes.com shopping experience. However, we do appreciate your candid review of the shopping process and we are exploring ways to improve the site as to avoid situations like this in the future.

Secondly, we did review your sales record and can confirm that the purchase is reflected in our system. We can also confirm that the refrigerator is out for delivery today – 9/14.

Lastly, to make sure you have a record of the transaction, we would be happy to send an email with the order confirmation to the email address that was used to create the Lowes.com account, or any other email address you’d prefer; please feel free to contact us with that information at socialteam@lowes.com .

We value you as a customer and hope you continue to shop at Lowe’s.

Regards,

Brad

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 14, 2011

Brad, I greatly appreciate your comment and am encouraged that Lowe’s is “listening!”

Keep in mind that EVERY touch point reflects on the company as a whole – from the website, to the tone of voice of the person in Customer Care, to the sales person on the floor, to the social media team. Unfortunately, the shopping and checkout process caused such a great deal of angst that we were completely turned off to Lowe’s as a whole.

Your taking the time to comment does help improve that sentiment and surely will for others who read this post.

I do have a rhetorical question: How will you send an order confirmation to an account that was created but is not on record? (That is just one of the issues.) We had to create the account to complete the transaction, but 2 days later the account didn’t exist.

I recommend your team do some website optimization testing but first start with a usability study. Make sure you have good analytics set up, because you are surely leaving money on the table and want to measure such. For usability, you may want to consider looking at User Testing. You can conduct tests for a low cost and have objective users walk through the checkout process and provide you with non-biased input.

Thank you for checking on the order. The refrigerator arrived a day early, a few hours ago! And the receipt and warranty information arrived today. NOTE: The first time we heard from Lowe’s was a voicemail message last night informing us of expected delivery today.

And my Mom, who was unaware of the hassle, is EXTREMELY HAPPY with the unit.

Thanks again for your comment!

Reply

kevin September 15, 2011

thanks so much for this I really enjoyed reading this sorry to hear about your difficulties. This is so common sites need to user test.

Time for a comment from Lowe’s don’t you think?

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 15, 2011

Yes, user testing is critical, especially on large ecommerce sites. Agree, Kevin!

FYI that the Director of Social Media for Lowe’s did reply above. They are listening.

Reply

Bill Rowland September 16, 2011

Dana,

Great post. I thought that it was particularly interesting since I used to work for a family appliance business that was also involved in e-commerce.

Clearly there seems to be many leaks in Lowe’s bucket and if they had the desire, I’m sure that they could figure out why people are abandoning their carts. However to Scott’s point above, the decision may have been made that it doesn’t make financial sense since the majority of revenue comes from in-store traffic. Regardless, it sounds like Lowe’s has a way to go to improve their experience.

I’m a big proponent of “You Pay for What You Get.” Was your experience with Lowe’s worth the $150 savings? It sounds like it was but I’m not sure if I’d be that patient.

Finally, props to Brad from Lowe’s for contacting you ;)

Reply

Dana Lookadoo September 16, 2011

Bill, your insight into “many leaks in Lowe’s bucket” is spot on! A few of us were having a Twitter conversation last night about Target, Lowe’s and other big brands that have difficult user experiences. One guy’s comment was especially insightful:

“I’m convinced most big retailers could care less about their sites. Like it’s inconvenient to have.”

I don’t know how true it is, and surely their retail stores are the #1 priority. In this case, it’s interesting that my Mom started at the retail store and was not asked if she needed help, was not informed about the sale offering, etc.

Given my parents’ refrigerator went on the blink and that we were 500 miles away in the mountains, far from any big store outlets, we wanted to help online. We were paying for it, so we wanted to complete the transaction and go about our vacation business. We had no idea it would take days to make the purchase. In hindsight, maybe should have jumped over to HomeDepot.com.

I definitely lost money on this purchase given that I could have been working on billable tasks, if I had so desired. A part of me was “determined” to complete the stupid transaction. But heck, I actually did lose my patience and handed it over to my husband.

Agree, props to Brad for commenting. A few of us have been chatting behind the scenes that we’ll now be secretly testing Lowes.com just to see if anything changes… Well, it’s not so secret. They are on our radar!

Reply

Joan McGovern October 11, 2011

This is not about Lowe’s.com, but about a store purchase and possible installation of a window. We needed one replacement window for a bathroom. We went to Lowe’s to order the window and inquired about their $99. window installation. The gentleman told us that they could send someone out to measure our opening and show us some windows. Although we already knew which window we wanted we did want them to install it so we agreed. When the said person arrived we told him which window we wanted and that we wanted it installed. He proceeded to tell us that there was an additional fee of $300. for someone to come and install any window(s). That meant that our $148. (approx.) window would cost us $399. to install. Of course we told him never mind the installation but could he measure our opening to make certain that we were ordering the correct size window. He refused to do it because we weren’t having Lowe’s install!
The next day we went to our local Lowe’s and told them what happened (and of course I’m looking around at all the signs in the window dept. and seeing the $99. installation charge everywhere.) The person working the dept. was totally surprised and said he never heard anything about a $300. charge and he also asked someone else who said the same.
Since we need a window we went ahead and ordered it.
I contacted Lowe’s on their website and asked them to contact me by e-mail about this situation. I explained the entire thing as I have just done. That was 5 or 6 days ago and I have yet to hear from them.

Reply

Dana Lookadoo October 14, 2011

Thank you for sharing your experience, Joan. Have you received a response yet? This case study is growing into an analysis of business best practices and how Lowe’s needs to take a step back and evaluate if they have the proper mechanisms and communications systems in place to business online and offline! It appears there needs to be more focus on the customers and the messages that are being transmitted. WOW!

Coincidentally, my Mom and Step-Dad have been dealing with a similar situation. They researched options to replace a bathroom counter top and install tile. I previously visited Lowe’s with my Mom to look at tile options and prices. She found someone to do the work and was ready to order tile. On her subsequent visit to Lowe’s this week, she learned that one cannot special order tile unless Lowe’s is going to do the installation! What?? I sure didn’t see those signs!!

Lowe’s sells windows, but they cannot help you determine which window to buy unless they install them. And the price is either $399 or $99?

Lowe’s sells bathroom tile, but you cannot order unless they install the tile. And where are those prices posted?

Lowe’s, guess what? You lost a sale to Home Depot this week.

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dave December 27, 2013

I just spent an hour of my life on LOWES.com and will never ever return. It showed availability in a store near me for pickup and refused to let me check out. Each time the screen rejected my order a different error code was given and my info was blank so I had to re=enter it all again. I kept going back to the product page and selected different stores and quantities. I used different credit cards. OVer and over again the site would not complete my order. Giving some random code like Error 3 or error 51. What a waste of time. Now we know why Home Depot is 100 times more successful and always will be. I will not waste another second of my life on Lowes.com again. Ever.

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ThinkinMind July 26, 2014

Shopping on Lowes.com is about the worst experience in eCommerce since the 1995 or thereabout when Internet shopping started to take off. How could one spend days placing items in shopping cart and then get to the point of checkout and get this error message:

“Lowes.com 500 – We are having problem with our server…
Lowe’s Home Improvement
Oh, C’mon!
Just when everything’s going smoothly, this happens.
Sorry about that. While we work to fix it, try going to our home page.
Return Home”

This is about the same experience twice in less than two months. I’m not kidding I’ve tried checking out almost 10 times since about 10AM EST on 7/26 and 9:40PM and the error is still there. Which small, medium or big for-profit business will have such an atrocious eCommerce downtime. Even governments do not have bad downtime like that. Lowes’ tag line should read: “Lowes Home Non-Improvement.”

Reply

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