Home Depot Builds an Online Community

Dec 17, 2010
Rick Moss

Commentary by Rick Moss

Home Depot originally established its reputation as
a predominantly big box DIY outlet staffed with personable, seasoned pros.
When it worked well, the social aspects of Home Depot’s customer service philosophy
were tangible. An ambitious weekend DIY adventure became somehow within the
reach of the average “all-thumbs” homeowner,
secure in the knowledge that a staff member would be at the point-of-sale to
offer instructions.

And so, when its “How-To Community” site launched  last
week it seemed like a natural extension of the HD approach to educate and encourage
DIYers. Some market observers compared it to Best Buy’s Twelpforce squadron
of Twitterers. However, the Home Depot effort seems more substantial by comparison
to most, with less emphasis on superficial socializing and more weight on instructional

More akin to a user-forum than a Facebook page, it’s clear that the
How-To Community knowledge-base will grow over time. There is a decent initial
offering to get early visitors started, however, and it’s likely the Home Depot
contributing associates were asked to pay particular attention to seeding the
first round of discussions. (“Experts” work a couple days a week
on the community website instead of on the shop floor.) That said, the response
to consumer inquiries is surprisingly thorough.

In the “Plants & Vegetables” category
of the discussions, for example, “aalicea” posts
an inquiry entitled “Bamboo-zled” in which she asks advice on transplanting
bamboo to a small outdoor flower bed. The response:

  • She receives a concise
    reply from “greengiant,” a
    14-year Home Depot veteran and store horticulturist. (He’s 6′ 9″ tall.)
    Ingar (his real name) warns against bamboo’s invasiveness and adds a photo
    as illustration.
  • A second associate, “hortman” (aka
    Ken — associate degree in horticulture) takes aalicea to class on different
    bamboo species so that she can first identify what she has and then care
    for them accordingly.
  • Finally, a professional landscaper
    from GardenWorldReport.com gives aalicea options on using outdoor pots for
    her bamboo, complete with more photo examples.

The social content on the How-To
Community runs the gamut from this type of interactive threaded discussion
to video blogs, contests and “Meet the
Experts” profiles.
Judging from much of the “Recent Topics” highlighted on the home
page, it appears Home Depot is going after the”lighter” side (i.e.
Lowe’s customer) of its base with home decorator projects as opposed to more
challenging renovation work. But the site also offers plenty of “Project
Guides” and “Buying
Guides.” And these bridge the gap between education and e-commerce to
guide customers as they fill their online shopping carts.

Discussion Questions: How would you rate Home Depot’s efforts in building
their online How-To Community? Do you think the time their associates will
spend working online and away from their in-store duties will be worthwhile?
Will the online community build loyalty and sales with a valuable demographic?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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6 Comments on "Home Depot Builds an Online Community"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Doug Fleener
10 years 4 months ago

I think it’s a very smart strategy, and I’m surprised it has taken them this long to create it. You can just look to Apple on how successful this approach is. I would say that 90% of the questions I’ve had on my Mac or iPhone have been answered by non-employees on the forum. Smart move by Home Depot.

Bill Hanifin
10 years 4 months ago

As I walked through Lowe’s last week less than 30 minutes to closing time, I struggled to engage any store associate in conversation or get their help. The same thing is renowned to occur in Home Depot and has been often reported.

The online forum is a great antidote to thinning in-store ranks.

The companion story on RetailWire today about shopping comparison sites highlights the ability for consumers to make sure they have the best deal possible in real time as they shop. The Home Depot approach helps to ensure that their store becomes the store of choice for purchases or projects researched online. I bet it will introduce an element of price strengthening as well.

What consumer with any “loyalty genes” in their body would learn everything their is to know about a DIY project at Home Depot’s site and then buy the material at a competitor store?

Maybe more than we think, but some minds will change with a well executed site.

Gordon Arnold
10 years 4 months ago

This was a good idea that could have used a lesson from modern web sites. I mean like the ones that encourage participation, suggestions and solid input from the customer side. It would take an effort to keep out the offensive individuals as well as competitors but would have serious growth potential. Being able to purchase necessary items and pick up at a chosen store or delivery service terminal would add a lot of fluff as well.

Christopher P. Ramey
10 years 4 months ago

Focusing on the “we can help” rather than “You can do it” is good strategy.

The site shouldn’t be flashy. Simplicity is key. It is more about authority than community. Comments from outsiders undermine the purpose of the site.

There was a time when the associates on the floor at The Home Depot were experts. Reestablishing that expertise on the internet is important. Wisdom coupled with low prices reestablishes their leadership.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 4 months ago

What a neat website! As Bill Hanfin mentioned in his remarks, smartphones will be helpful using this new offering from Home Depot, and hopefully they will offer a version of the site to fit the screens on phones (much as RetailWire recently did). An in-store map should be available via store-by-store WiFi, and in-store kiosks featuring the new website would be a good idea, too.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 4 months ago

The website is very consumer friendly and appealing and invites the viewer to “come back again” for information and tips. It seems to be a winner to me.


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