Home Depot’s EXPO Design Centers Should Go Virtual

In a press release issued this week, Home Depot announced that it’s shuttering its doors on all 34 EXPO Design Center stores:

The EXPO business has not performed well financially and is not expected to anytime soon. Even during the recent housing boom, it was not a strong business. It has weakened significantly as the demand for big ticket design and decor projects has declined in the current economic environment. Continuing this business would divert focus and resources from the Company’s core “orange box” stores. Therefore, over the next two months, the Company will be closing 34 EXPO Design Center stores, five YardBIRDS stores, two Design Center stores and a bath remodeling business known as HD Bath, with seven locations.

But wait!  Let’s not be too quick to liquidate all the inventory and tear down the walls.  Images and footage can be captured from the existing design centers — and placed online.  With a Virtual EXPO Design Center, Home Depot can:

  1. Generate leads/business to their core orange box stores
  2. Facilitate e-commerce transactions directly within the virtual design center
  3. Bring the design center to the entire world (and not just those in the vicinity of the 34 physical stores)
  4. Differentiate from the competition

And, they can do all of this for fairly low cost – much lower than their costs for maintaining the original 34 physical design centers.  The concept here is a mashup between Realtor.com and Amazon.  With Realtor.com, prospective home buyers search for homes, view photos and take 360 degree tours.

With Amazon, shoppers of goods peruse, search and eventually purchase (online).  With a virtual design center, you facilitate both activities – prospects search for particular appliances and take 360 degree tours of model kitchens and baths.  By clicking on a particular item, the user can be provided with its full specifications (dimensions, weight, etc.) and  be taken to homedepot.com to purchase it immediately.

So visit the showrooms that are still standing and capture photos, videos and 360 tours.  There are many affordable solutions for capturing and rendering 360 views, such as IPIX and 360iSight.  Next, go interview some of the 5,000 employees you were planning to lay off and find the ones who are most personable and most “online savvy”.

Offer selected employees positions to remain with the company – as virtual showroom staff.  In their new role, their job is to be an embassador (online), answer questions in online chat and discussion forums (within the virtual design center) and help facilitate e-commerce or real-world sales.  To mix in some fun, outfit their avatars with the Home Depot orange apron (and yes, I know, that’s from the orange box stores – but, we’re having fun – and, it might help reinforce the brand).

To provide value to your ecosystem of partners and vendors, allow selected vendors (e.g. GE, Maytag, Kohler) to have booths within the virtual design center, which would provide a centralized collection of the vendor’s products.  Feel free to charge these vendors for their booth, so that you recoup some of your costs for building this environment.

Vendors could provide their own employees to staff the booth.  And once a week, allow a selected vendor to provide a live presentation (webinar or videocast) in the design center’s Auditorium.  Instead of driving clicks to the vendor’s web sites, allow users to click into homedepot.com to purchase the vendor’s products there.

Now, if you have leftover budget or time, mix in more fun into the environment – provide interactive areas where users can interact with kitchen or bath appliances.  Allow a user to turn on/off a stove; set an oven timer; open/close cabinets; fill up a jacuzzi tub with water.  Features like this increase the stickiness of the site and may keep users coming back.  I’m sure there’s much more than can be done – so whether it’s Home Depot or another retailer, I’m expecting to see this concept (virtual design center) become a reality in 2009.

Viking range?  $1,099.99.  LG refrigerator?  $799.99.  Online leads, interactivity and e-commerce?  Priceless.

One Response to Home Depot’s EXPO Design Centers Should Go Virtual

  1. leahingram says:

    From a consumer side of things, I blogged about how this is a good reminder that just because something is on liquidation (10% to start) doesn’t mean it’s a good price. And there are still plenty of ways to save on home renovations: http://suddenlyfrugal.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/4-ways-to-save-on-renovations/ I do like the idea of virtual design cetners.

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