David Housman

Overview

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If you’ve ever spent time at a Home Depot, you know the frustration of fruitlessly searching the store for an item you need. Then you wander around some more, trying to find someone to help. Unfortunately, a courtesy clerk isn’t always able to direct you to the items you’re trying to find.

eCourtesyClerk was a small technology startup that offered a SMS based service to facilitate shopping in big box retail stores. Users could send eCourtesyClerk the name of product they were looking for and the service would respond with the bin and lot numbers of the item in the store. The product would earn revenue by responding to queries with targeted brand or product advertisements. Stores could benefit from this as well: more requests being filled by eCourtesyClerk meant fewer human courtesy clerks.

Research

Interviews revealed that while “Pro” customers may visit the store frequently and know the location of the items they’re looking for, others do not:

  • Homeowners and renters visit the store less regularly than professional visitors
  • New homeowners are less familiar with the product they’re looking for
  • People that acquire a new house in a new area are less familiar with a store

The team implemented a prototype on SMS to minimize interface development and adoption costs. The back end consisted of a sample static database. hand-drafted advertisements, Twilio and cloud-based web servers.

The following are screenshots of the prototype in action.

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Initial validation interviews went well- consumers were not fond of the SMS format, but many acknowledged scenarios where it could have been useful. There were some issues that were unclear:

  • Due to limited ad serving functionality in the prototype, it was unclear whether consumers would change their behavior in response to the advertisements.
  • Almost no no one had thought to try the Home Depot app while searching the store. It was unclear whether consumers would have the awareness to realize that they should try service.

After analyzing the business context further. eCourtesyClerk would have to depend on the store to provide inventory layouts. Large chains, such as Lowes and Home Depot kept track of the locations of inventory in stores. Smaller, independent stores, such as Ace Hardware did not.

Conclusion

eCourtesyClerk would need to partner closely with a large chain to become successful. However these chains also had the resources to vertically integrate and develop a competitor product.

When this became clear, we looked to smaller stores. We contacted an ACE hardware, which was too technologically immature to adopt such the solution. A local OSH was uninterested in the product, since they differentiate on customer service.

The writing was on the wall: eCourtesyClerk may have been technically feasible, but it was not commercially viable. Shortly thereafter the product was shuttered.