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In this age of digital disruption, it appears many retailers are still playing catch up to find the right technologies that connect with consumers.

This will be a central theme at the upcoming CONNECT: The Mobile CX Summit in Chicago Aug. 13-15. To help companies tackle digital disruption, Amanda Manna is schedule to give a keynote address during the summit’s second day on Aug. 14.

Manna, the former head of narrative and partnerships at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, helped guide the home improvement retailer to roll out a number of tech innovation meant to enhance the consumer experience. Mobile Payments Today recently caught up with her to discuss her time at Lowe’s ahead of CONNECT.

There’s still time to join us in Chicago to listen to Manna’s keynote address, as well as other panel discussions and keynotes that deal with the evolving customer experience. Early bird registration ends this Friday, July 13. 

MPT: While you were at Lowe’s, you helped to spearhead some innovations such as the Holoroom and the Lowebot. Why did Lowe’s believe those innovations were the right ones to pursue to address the customer experience?

Manna: We began by translating all of our market research and trend data to create stories about what might happen in the 5-to-10 year future when current technological and human trends played out. Those narratives were turned into comic books, which helped articulate our vision for the future and build alignment internally. Once we had done that, we set out to reverse engineer the narratives and figure out what needed to happen to make the story real – and we built it. The Holoroom, an augmented and virtual reality design tool, and Lowebot, an autonomous in-store retail robot, were projects that lept from the pages of those stories.

MPT: What are one or two lessons your team learned in terms of convincing Lowe’s as a whole to move forward with such projects?

Manna: We learned that sometimes it takes more than facts and figures to help convince people where you are trying to go, and that it’s a good idea. That’s how we landed on narrative, which is really how our brain is wired to receive and make sense of lots of complex information. Another lesson is that it’s important to create metrics that test what actually matters for your project, and not try to apply mature metrics to nascent innovation or technology projects. This led us to apply a hypothesis-driven experimental design framework to measuring our projects, where we were focused on learnings that would help us improve and get to the next generation, until we saw readiness for scale.

Manna: If consumers don’t find a new experience or tool useful, they aren’t going to use it. It’s important to focus on solving real human needs, rather than just trying to add new technological bells and whistles. Our AR/VR projects were successful because they helped solve a core emotional need in home improvement – the need to feel confident in your project and your vision, or to convince someone else that your design was going to turn out well. By using technology to create visualization tools that had never before been possible, we showed the practical applicability of that technology today.

MPT: What are a couple of things retailers should keep in mind right now when formulating and moving forward with a plan to improve the customer experience?

Manna: First, figure out your narrative. Where are you going, and what does that look and feel like to your customers and employees? That will set a vision that can help you figure out what to work on, or what not to work on. Next, focus on designing experiments to change human behavior, and create hypotheses to understand what to do next. Ultimately our focus at Lowe’s was always about changing behavior – and sometimes that meant driving sales, but sometimes that meant helping keep our employees safer at work with exosuits, or serving customers in different languages using LoweBot. We always started with, can we make it work? And, will people like it? Once we answered those two successfully, we knew we were onto something that deserved integration into the core strategy.

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