Home Depot and Lowe’s– Competing for the most useless website

Home Depot and Lowe’s. Two stores that sell practically the exact same stuff for practically the exact same price.

How do you decide which should earn your business? Well, if you base it on their websites, you wouldn’t shop at either.

First up, Home Depot. I choose them because that is where I mainly shop for my home improvement supplies. Their website itself is ok. It’s fairly fast, which puts them waaaaaay ahead of Lowes. The problem is in some of the functionality.

I am currently building a new shed, and I wanted to put a window in it. I went to the Home Depot website and chose windows, $50 – $100, vinyl, sort by price. It pops up a window that looks good for me– 3′ x 2′ horizontal slider.

Under the window, the site says “Check your local store.” I click that link. It pops up a window telling me that before I can check stock at the local store, I have to use their Store Finder. I click the Store Finder link, and find that my store is already selected– I had selected it in the past. There is NO way for me to actually check the stock at the local store, and selecting a different store yields the same result. I end up in this endless loop where I keep selecting stores, and their site keeps telling me I need to select a store to check stock.

This is broken, unless by “Check your local store,”‘ they mean that I should use their form to find my local store, get in my car, drive to my local store, walk all the way to the window section, and check to see if they have a window in stock.

Another problem with the Home Depot website is the way they handle their weekly ads. I am on their mailing list, and once a week on Wednesday nights, they send me an email so I can check out the local ad. The problem? Half the time, there is no local ad.

For example, I just received an email from them a little while ago. “Preview Tomorrow’s Local Ad,” the email said. I click the link to view the ad, and what do I see? A page telling me there is no local ad for the week. Well then, why the hell did you send me an email telling me to check out the ad? It makes no sense. Someone in the marketing and/or IT department needs to be sat down and have it explained that annoying potential customers is not how you foster customer loyalty.

OK, time for Lowe’s. Lowe’s website– hands down– is more useless than Home Depot’s site. I have two big problems with Lowe’s website.

The first is that the site is slow. I don’t just mean slow– it is an excruciating experience to attempt to use the Lowe’s website. The average page load takes about 15 seconds according to my rough testing. Yeah, 15 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 2010. If your website is so slow that it sends me back to the dial-up days of the 90s, you need to fix it. If your current IT department can’t put together a website that loads fast, then it’s probably time to replace them. It shouldn’t be too hard– I hear there are a lot of IT guys who are out of work.

The bigger problem with Lowe’s is that, for the most part, their website is completely useless. It buries the user in useless information. Try it out for yourself. Go to Lowe’s website, hover over the “Shop By Department” button, and choose Vinyl Windows. Wait about 15 seconds for the page to load, and then select windows that are vinyl, wait fifteen seconds, and choose windows that are $100 or less. Wait fifteen seconds for the page to load. Choose to show 60 results per page, which should be just about all of the results, and wait fifteen seconds for the page to load.

Now, look at the results. If you have chosen your local store, you might notice something. Under some products, on my screen, it says “Unavailable” or “Unavailable at Lowe’s of South Savannah, GA.” Well, Lowe’s, if the item is unavailable, why are you showing it to me? Is it so I can order the item online? Nope, that’s not possible. What exactly is the point of showing me items that are impossible for me to buy?

By the way, when I do the search above for vinyl windows, under $100, I am returned 54 results Of the 54 results, only ONE– that’s right, ONE– window is available at my local Lowe’s. Over 98% of the items that Lowe’s website shows me are unavailable. I cannot buy them. So, Lowe’s, quit showing me them!

Expanding, next to the “Unavailable” tag is a question mark. If you click it, you get a popup that tells you to check other stores to see if the item is available. Ok, fine– but how do I do that? Well, I have to click the link to change stores. The link isn’t contained in the actual popup, though. I have to scroll way at the top to the change store link, search for stores, and select the store– each with a fifteen second delay between page loads. Checking other stores takes forever. Why can’t their site automatically check other stores and say, “Not available at your store, but we’re so cool that we checked all the stores within 50 miles of your zipcode, and we have it in stock at this other store that is pretty close you?” The answer is that it can– they just haven’t chosen to do it.

Lowe’s and Home Depot, the competition that I have observed, in terms of your websites, is for which leaves a worse taste in the mouths of your potential customers. The competition is between which website wastes more of your potential customers’ time. The competition is for which website is most useless.

That is all.