Lowe's Holoroom Enables Customers to Test Drive Power Tools in Virtual Reality

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It may not be the first company that springs to mind when thinking about virtual reality (VR), but home improvement giant Lowe's has dreamt up an interesting in-store use for the technology - to allow customers to test drive power tools before buying.

A product of Lowe's Innovation Labs in collaboration with startup Krayonik, the new VR platform - named Holoroom Test Drive - is a fully-immersive, multisensory experience that allows Lowe's customers to don a VR headset and try out tools like Kobalt's 24V cordless hedge trimmer in a safe, virtual space.

(Image source: lowesinnovationlabs.com)

The platform enables both customers and staff to get to grips with a virtual version of a power tool to both learn how to operate it and see how it handles. This, according to Olivia Myers, Innovation Manager at Lowe's Innovation Labs, is an important step in the buyer's journey when it comes to power tools, as many would-be customers can often forgo a purchase due to the fact that they don't feel confident in their abilities to handle the product.

"Everything we do at Lowe's Innovation Labs is designed to solve a human need," said Myers. "We've seen that getting comfortable with power tools can be a challenge for our customers, so we worked with a startup called Krayonik to co-develop Holoroom Test Drive. It's the next-generation 'try before you buy' experience. Customers step into a virtual garage and backyard environment where they can safely and realistically learn how to operate power equipment. We are using the immersive capabilities that VR offers to experiment with haptics, sound, scent, and visuals to make this experience as valuable as possible for our customers."

Empowering Customers with Confidence and Skills

The Kobalt 24V cordless hedge trimmer that customers use for the VR experience isn't real. Rather, it's a controller that replicates the actual weight and feel of its real-world counterpart and provides realistic haptics, sounds, and even the smells produced while using a trimmer in real life.

"When you think about the factors that influence a customer's buying decision for power equipment, some of the first things to come to mind are the comfort and feel during operation," said Myers. "After initially experimenting with a few iterations of controller concepts, my team developed a custom-made controller with a true-to-life weight and feel, which makes it easy for customers to translate the experience to the real world.

(Video source: youtube.com)

The objective of Holoroom Test Drive is to provide customers with an opportunity to get a real feel for the tool before actually purchasing it -- the next level of in-store "try before you buy" experiences.

Digital trackers on users' hands allow the platform to trace how customers handle the tool, and interactive training is provided to help customers become adept and confident with using the product before taking it home. The idea is that the interactivity and training will lead to more purchases, while the convenience of VR means that training can happen quickly and safely right there in the Lowe's store.

"My team has recognized that immersive technologies have the potential to change the way customers try and purchase products online and in stores," said Myers. "It's estimated that $70 billion worth of home improvement projects are stalled because customers aren't able to visualize the final product. At Lowe's Innovation Labs, we use virtual reality to break down visualization barriers to empower customers with the confidence and skills they need to begin a project."

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Final Thoughts

Lowe's Innovation Labs has been working with AR and VR platforms since 2014. Initially intended to assist customers with home projects, additional experiences have been developed for both customers and employees since that time. Myers says that early versions of a VR training program for Lowe's associates have led to a 127% increase in confidence compared to traditional training procedures - which bodes well for customers looking to improve their confidence levels with power tools.

Holoroom Test Drive is currently available in only a handful of Lowe's retail locations across the country and is still considered to be in the testing phase. It will be interesting to see if the project proves successful enough to be rolled out nationwide.

After Holoroom Test Drive was named a 2018 Auggie Awards winner for Best Enterprise Solution at the Augmented World Expo 2018, Myers is full of confidence. "The goal of every experience we've created is to increase customer confidence, whether that's in design ability, project skills or buying decisions. Holoroom Test Drive aims to improve a customer's willingness to try out new products, ease decision-making and even provide pro tips."

In-store VR and AR experiences are set to be hot topics at Future Stores Miami 2019, taking place in February at the JW Marriott Miami, Florida.

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