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2012 Home Depot Audit






  • 2013 Hilary Braun, Jared Fancy, Libby Herskovitz, Becky Margraf

    No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the Copyright owner.

    Printed in The United States of America

  • Past Experiences

    First In-Store Audit

    Second In-Store Audit

    Research Methodologies

    Third In-Store Audit

    Fourth In-Store Audit












    Good research requires objective anal-ysis of observable fact. When discuss-ing the impact and efficacy of a brand, however, subjective impressions and anecdotal evidence have their place. After all, a consumers perceptions affect a brand regardless of whether those perceptions are rooted in fact or myth. If a perception is beneficial to the brand but rooted in myth, it ought to be bolstered in one way or another. Conversely, if a perception rooted in fact is deleterious to a brand, then ef-forts must be made to dispel it. To that end, our team sat down to discussed our perceptions of the brand, and asked third parties1 for their perceptions. We found that, generally, non-professional consumers think of Home Depot primarily as a ware-housemeaning that the sales experi-

    ence was secondary to having the right products in stockproducts that could only be found at Home Depot or its competitors2. Paradoxically, we found that while Home Depots employees are perceived as friendly and knowl-edgeable, consumers described feelings of helplessness and frustration about the warehouses shopping and naviga-tion processes. Our findings will shed light on this paradox, address the further issues affecting Home Depots brand, and pro-vide a firm basis for our team to recom-mend solutions. Before we entered the store, we made specific guidelines of the goals for each trip, the materials we would need to bring to achieve these goals and the ways we could record our experience.





    Many Home Depots are located in the suburbs3, where most people travel by car. Our team visited one of Home Depots city-based locations in Bos-tons South Bay Plaza, which requires a bus ride of approximately 45 minutes from central Boston, with a fare of $1.50 each way. The bus drops custom-ers off in an enormous parking lot shared by the department stores that populate the plaza, including: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Olive Garden, Panera, andof courseHome Depot. Upon entering the Home Depot, we were greeted by an associate who handed us a flyer and told us to let him know if we found anything. The as-sociate was friendly, but the welcome felt somewhat tired and rehearsed, as if hed been greeting customers for a long while. Our intention was to test

    the limits of Home Depots associates by attempting to buy a snowblower. For this initial visit, we determined to be receptive to the sales experience and record our observations. Home Depot is a warehouse-style department store, certainly falling under the somewhat unfavorable cat- egory of big-box chain. The floors are concrete and the ceilings are enor- mously high to accommodate shelves stacked with stock, which true to the style of a warehouseis all presented on the floor, rather than being hidden away in a stockroom. The store is lit brightly with fluorescent and ventilated by ceiling fans. Bareness seems to be an essential part of Home Depots store brandit allows the product to speak for itself. Their signature orange is the most oft-used color in signage and each

    FIRST IN-STORE AUDIT Saturday, September 15, 2012; 11:00 a.m.


    associate wears an orange smock. Accent colors, such as yellow and blue, often refer to construction sites and construction materials. Price labels tend to be hand-written or made to look as such. Gen products are orga-nized within their appropriate categories, but special and seasonal displays tend to be disorganized, confusing, and startlingly informal. As you walk through the store you can hear radio tunes playing and the beeping of the forklift as it is driven around the store. Many of Home Depots products have display units with which the customer can interact, and some units can even be tested out. For example, the drill aisle dis-played all units available for purchase and even featured a kiosk where customers could drill into a piece of wood. All of this contributes to Home Depots utilitarian, no-nonsense atmosphere. Forklifts travel the same paths as customers to deliver stock that is as plainly visible as the units on display; loading areas for larger puchases are designated with clear signage at the front and back of the store. And while music plays in the aisles, its the standard top 40s fare that can easily be tuned out. Our team observed that customers can be divided into two major categories. First is the professional: generally a contractor, carpenter or other construction worker, who knows exactly what he wants, knows the layout of the store, and has detailed technical questions for the associates. The second type of customer is the non-professional: someone who is attempting to solve a home problem, complete a do-it-yourself project, or purchase a specific product. The non-professional rarely visits Home Depot, is not technically trained, and may not know what he or she really needs. As we walked the aisles, we noticed that every associate was engaged in conversation with both groups of customers. Associates

    Bareness seems to be an essential part of Home Depots in-store brandit allows the product to speak for itself.


    PROFESSIONAL Carpenters, plumbers, gardeners

    NON-PROFESSIONAL Weekend Warriors,

    Frequent Home Depot visitor; regularly picks up items during the work week Generally know the items that they want and where they are If they do have questions, they are more in-depth or compli- cated than the non-professional Have an idea about the cost of the items they need to pur- chase during their trip

    Rarely hops at Home Depot Not technically trained; needs advice to complete a project Usually shopping trips are a result of a d.i.y. project around their home May not know the items that they need for a specific project Not always aware of project or product costs Needs someone who can help answer questions simply



    tended to be very hands-onshowing customers what a product was for, and different ways they could use it. Because our plan had been to first ask an employee about buying a snow-blower during our next visit, we were on the lookout for the product from the very start. However, we had some

    difficulty finding them. At first, we thought that September might be too early in the fall season for the product on display. As we began our second loop around the store, we saw we that had walked right passed them at the entrance; our view had been obstruct-ed by tall stacks of cleaning products.


    It was troubling that such a large and expensive item was so difficult to find. Upon entering, it wasnt clear what category snowblowers might be under, whether the item would be inside or outside, or whether they were in stock at all. When we finally found themin a poorly-organized seasonal displaybut there were only eight machines, and their names and prices were handwritten in permanent marker on signs that prevented customers from seeing the whole product. No information about the machines was provided beyond what could be found on the manufacturers labels. As our team walked the perimeter of the warehouse, we noticed a framed employee smock with badges denot-ing that stores associates years of experience. After observing the associates interactions with customers, it seemed to us that Home Depot hires people with a working knowledge of the stores products. Based on our preconceived impressions of the Home Depot brand, we had expected that most associates would be male. But we found that both males and females were equally represented, although female employees were more often found in cashiering or customer service positions. Before leaving, we made purchases using both the regular checkout and self- checkout systems. The self- checkout was quick, but when Becky had decided to ask an associate for a price-check on an item whose price was inconsistent with its tag, the associate only made one cursory check and insisted that their systems price was correct, even though the item was marked as a sale item. So, as with any type of operation in retail, the customer experience is very dependent on the individual employee and his or her training.

    Visit Takeaways Hands on employees Difficult to navigate around store Limited snowblower selection in store Importance of employee years of experience Price check inconsistencies




    Our team returned for our next audit around eight oclock on a Thursday night. While we were there, we devel-oped an activity analysis map and an error analysis list. In the Activity Analysis map, we listed all the tasks, interactions, and performers that might be involved while attempting to buy a snowblower. The error analysis list accounted for everything that could go wrong during ou