Lowe’s Invests In 42,000 iPhones To Improve Your Shopping Experience

Take it from a former retail drone: trying to give customers a good shopping experience can be tough when you have to jostle with other employees for open computers. In-store networks are slow, and more often than not, the computers are even slower. It’s enough of a process that a once free-flowing conversation can dry up into an awkward silence while the computer struggles to find the widget in question.

Thankfully, hardware retailer Lowe’s has decided to do something about that lackluster experience: they have (among other things) purchased 42,000 iPhones to make their employees walking, talking sources of home improvement information.

The purchase is partially in response to a similar move made by their orange rival Home Depot. Last year, Home Depot spent $60 million on a fleet of Motorola mobile devices that were meant to keep employees with customers and out of the computer line. Lowe’s has similar hopes for their iPhones: they will allow employees to perform on-the-go product lookups, check stock, and pull up instructional videos for customers. Each Lowe’s location is slated to receive 25 iPhones, but the rollout schedule has yet to be announced.

Lowe’s wants to expand the capabilities of their in-store iPhones, assuming this first rollout goes well. The iPhones presumably lock out certain features to reduce the amount of employee shirking that’s possible, so mundane features on the short list include mobile calling and email. Lowe’s also hopes to add the ability to ring up purchases directly from the phone a la Square.

According to Lowe’s CIO Mike Brown, the plan is to “[play] catch-up with the customer psyche,” which shines a bit of light on the company’s choice of mobile device.

The iPhone is, for better or worse, a status device — the “cool” alternative to Home Depot’s own Motorola handhelds. The company’s recent move to replace CRT displays with flat panels and installing WiFi in stores also point to a new strategy for them. It looks like Lowe’s is trying to fight a war of positioning: they want to assume the role of the modern, forward-thinking hardware store. Whether or not it’ll pan out has yet to be seen, but they at least deserve some credit for trying to keep the retail run-down to a minimum.