WILKESBORO, N.C. -Lowe's relaunched its information-only website, www.lowes.com, as a full-service online store last month, choosing white goods and tools for its initial Internet offerings.
The home improvement chain said it has partnered with its vendors and is utilizing its store-based special-order program to offer over 3,000 majap SKUs online, including cooktops, ranges, refrigerators, washers and dishwashers from Frigidaire, GE, Maytag and Whirlpool.
By contrast, its brick & mortar sites typically stock about 250 models.
Lowe's said Internet orders are being shipped through its 625 stores in 40 states using the company's existing delivery system, as well as through a high-speed distribution center in Atlanta specializing in parcel shipping operations. The warehouse is capable of processing thousands of customer orders daily, the company said.
Fulfillment is promised within three to five business days after an order is processed, with delivery charges topping out at $99.93 for shipments over 300 pounds. Installation is available through the company's "Install and Haul" program and through local licensed subcontractors for built-ins.
Lowe's said its e-commerce effort will allow it to "expand its presence, strengthen its brand, and offer more solutions and advice to customers." Plans call for other product categories to be added to the site throughout next year and for the cyber assortment to grow to more than 100,000 SKUs by 2002.
Site features include buying guides, side-by-side product comparisons, a how-to library, and around-the-clock customer care via e-mail and toll-free phone.
"We are excited about opening another door in serving our customers," said Matt Deeter, the retailer's VP/Internet operations. "Our online customer care program will allow us to provide small store customer service on the Web."
Lowe's, now the nation's No. 2 majap merchant, follows first-place Sears and fourth-ranked Wards with online incarnations selling white goods. Sears added appliances to its Web-based mix about 20 months ago, while Wards, which limits deliveries to markets with Wards stores, joined the fray earlier this fall.
In October, following a limited two-month trial, No. 5 white-goods retailer The Home Depot conducted its first e-commerce test in the Las Vegas market, where local shoppers can purchase online 40,000 products, including appliances. The nation's largest home-improvement chain plans to open its second cyber test market in Austin and San Antonio, Texas before the end of the year.
Lowe's first went online in 1995 with an informational website aimed at do-it-yourselfers and professional builders. Like Sears, Lowe's ostensibly chose tools as an initial e-commerce category for their ease of shipment and currently offers 8,000 models.
Appliances, though heavier and bulkier, continue to be star performers for the chain, which has lately been beset by softening sales. As chairman/CEO Robert Tillman noted last month, "Strength in bigger-ticket items such as appliances and kitchen cabinets is atypical in a slowing environment, and both of these categories continue to outpace the company as a whole."