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!

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