The Performance Beacon

The web performance, analytics, and optimization blog

Case study: How Lowe’s cut load times in half and drove online sales past $1B




To deliver the best possible retail experience for customers in-store, online, and on-the-go – and to compete with Amazon on its own turf in an increasingly competitive ecommerce climate – Lowe’s set out to build a center of excellence based around digital performance. This is their success story. 

Since 1946, Lowe’s has been helping homeowners, renters, and businesses improve their working and living spaces. Over the course of those seventy years, the company has grown from a small hardware store to a company that ranks 49th in the Fortune 500. Passionate about continued growth, management at Lowe’s wanted to implement an omnichannel strategy that would leverage their unique advantages in the battle with Amazon.

The challenges that the company faced were not uncommon, but they were critical to the continued success of the chain. Lowe’s needed to boost site availability and performance while establishing baseline performance metrics. The company also needed to develop a strong culture of performance among all departments. This required tools that catered to wider geographic and departmental reach than what had been used in the past.

Stepping up to the plate

Lowe’s began its journey by focusing on four key areas centered around digital performance:

  1. metrics,
  2. people,
  3. processes, and
  4. technology.

We talked to Trey Kistler, Director of Ecommerce at Lowe’s, who explained, “We don’t go into an effort without considering performance, without considering what impact it may have on our site, considering capacity additions to our properties. Performance is basically a requirement of what we do and is required to be measured and analyzed before we move a change to production.”

Putting performance at the forefront of its decision making, Lowe’s was able to:

  • Achieve nearly 100% availability consistently from executing the right tests
  • Slash average page load times in half with performance measurement and optimization
  • Correlate site performance with sales impact using predictive analytics
  • Establish data-driven decision making for increased customer focus and revenue
  • Increased online sales by 20% in Q3 2016, driving ecommerce revenue to over $1 billion

Issue 1: Overcoming outages

Like many online retailers just starting down a performance path, Lowe’s was no stranger to outages. Without the right tools to pinpoint where trigger points were, the company was left to use inefficient methods to try and solve performance issues.

Enter CloudTest. By using our cloud-based load testing solution, Kistler and his team were able to turn things around and stabilize the Lowe’s website by proactively troubleshooting performance problems. The team could now clearly see a distributed view of traffic hitting their digital properties, alleviating site availability issues.

CloudTest

Issue 2: Managing performance on disparate web properties

Throughout 2016, Lowe’s continued to improve the digital performance of its online properties to the tune of mirrored revenue performance. So much so, in fact, that overall online sales for the company climbed 20% in the third quarter of 2016.

The relaunch of LowesForPros.com last year also helped to boost online sales for the company, moving the once information-only asset to an ecommerce platform for professional customers to purchase online. This upgraded site offers better, more efficient functionality.

Reeling off the success of this redesigned sub-site, Lowe’s also launched a newer, polished version of its main business-to-consumer website earlier this year, touting chat capabilities, more visual product imagery, video content, better search functionality, and more.

These user experience boosting features, coupled with best performance practices, paid off. Lowe’s reported that, for the first three quarters of 2016:

  • Total sales were $49.23 billion, up 7.4% from the previous year
  • Growth was higher than comparable retailers, which came in at a sales growth rate of 3.9%

Read > 2016 Holiday Retail Insights Report

Issue 3: Wrangling multiple data sources in realtime

Nothing comes easily in the digital space, and Lowe’s recognized that the aim to implement a cohesive omnichannel strategy would involve all parts of the business. Focusing on a single source of truth, they leveraged the latest Digital Performance Management tools, including real user monitoring, advanced data analytics, mobile testing, and a Digital Operations Center to bring all aspects of the business under one umbrella. The result: a higher level of efficiency and better decision making.

mPulse

“Realtime data is the key to knowing our customers’ needs and understanding reactions to the changes we make, and how those impact our customers. We use this data to make smart decisions,” Kistler told us.

Kistler and his team were able to use this realtime data to see exactly what their customers were doing without a compressed view, which can add inaccuracies to important data sets. With this, they were able to increase revenue and agility, applying this to analyze first and third-party resources, and to more accurately predict what their customers wanted to see from the digital experiences.

Read > Sampling sucks (or, why you need to collect, keep and use all your user data)

Issue 4: Testing in production

It isn’t always easy to test the right thing the first time and get a favorable result. But with RUM data, Lowe’s was able to design more accurate tests, leveraging data collected around how customers used the Lowe’s website to drive what was tested prior to moving changes into production, removing the risk of implementing changes that could cause poor performance, and lower overall user experience.

These new testing best practices were extended to the functionality of the Lowe’s mobile app as well, adding to the overall omnichannel foundation, ensuring that the app experience delivered reliable and responsive performance, across an array of devices.

lowes_mobile_app

Read > Why performance testing in production is not only a best practice – it’s a necessity

Issue 5: Planning for traffic spikes

While many online retailers see increased traffic at certain predictable times of the year, this does not change user expectations, who expect favorable online experiences year-round. With the implementation of its new digital performance management tools, Lowe’s was able to plan ahead for performance, prepared to face any day as if it were a peak day. Being proactive about performance is key to continued success, driving sales, revenue, and brand perception.

Read > Testing strategies for seasonal readiness: How to plan for peak traffic

Issue 6: Competing with Amazon

Lowe’s knows that it and most other online retailers are in competition with Amazon. According to Forbes, “There’s no question that Amazon.com has thoroughly upended the retail industry. Every retailer, from mom-and-pop shops to big boxes, have had to rethink their strategies from the ground up to compete in today’s new digital reality.”

Fortunately, as the Forbes piece also points out, Lowe’s has a leg up on Amazon by “leveraging its strengths, especially in areas where Amazon has weaknesses.” With a digital performance management strategy that now rivals Amazon’s, Lowe’s is in a good position to capitalize on what it does best: understand its customers across all touchpoints – in-store, online, and even at home – and deliver a great experience throughout the entire customer journey.

lowes-twitter

Read > Office Depot’s digital transformation journey: From back-room QA lab to digital performance management

Takeaway

Lowe’s rose to meet Amazon on the retail playing field – and succeeded. In one year, the company slashed its average page load time in half, correlated site performance with sales using predictive analytics, established a data-driven decision making modern for increased customer focus, increased revenue through the utilization of data science, and ultimately drove ecommerce sales to over $1 billion.

But a complete DPM approach far surpasses tooling and development. It’s a holistic initiative, one that requires a shift in corporate culture. By putting performance first, Lowe’s successfully competed with Amazon within its market segment, relishing in the knowledge that when the customer wins, the company wins.

To sum it all up, Trey Kistler puts it perfectly: “The one thing to take away is really: make performance part of your culture. Performance has to be first and foremost – on every project, on every effort. Performance can’t be an afterthought.”

These are a few highlights of this success story. Read the full case study here.

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Amy Vosters

About the Author

Amy Vosters


Amy is the Marketing Manager at SOASTA, where she specializes in content marketing, growth-hacking, wordsmithing, and go to market strategies. She is fascinated with the correlation between web performance, neuroscience, and how this translates into success for modern digital businesses.

Follow @AmyatSOASTA