"A lot of
companies have outside spaces, but we approach it in a different
way, through science-fiction prototyping," said Mr. Nel, who
reports to Lowe's Chief Information Officer Paul Ramsay. "You take
all of your market research, all of your trend data and hire
professional science-fiction writers. And they write real stories
with conflict and resolution and characters. We turned it into a
comic book and created possible stories or visions of the
those visions involved giving homeowners the ability to envision
remodeling projects with augmented reality. "Because it was a
sci-fi story, it really opened up people's imaginations to
understand what was possible," Mr. Nel said. "Now that we've gone
through it, it seems weird we wouldn't work in this
at emerging tech, consumer insights, unmet needs and pain points,
give them to sci-fi writers and create preferred futures," said Ari
Popper, founder and co-CEO of SciFutures, a
self-described "technology, research and foresight agency" that
counts Hershey, Del Monte and
PepsiCo among its clients. "Technology removes a lot of the
barriers and unmet needs and pain points associated with the
visualization of home improvement."
project to come out the Labs and science fiction-prototyping is the
"Holoroom." The 20-foot- by-20-foot room allows customers to
simulate renovation projects. Customers can create realistic rooms
on an iPad -- stocked with anything Lowe's sells, right down to
Valspar paint colors -- and then enter the Holoroom to experience a
3D version of the room. An app, paired with a printout of the room,
allows customers to view and adjust their 3D creation at home, as
well as share it with friends.
The Holoroom will be installed later this year
in two Toronto-area stores and will focus on bathroom remodeling.
The plan is to add new categories and rooms over the next 12-to-18
months. There is no firm plan for rollout in the U.S.
declined to comment on budgets for either the Holoroom or Lowe's
Innovation Labs, though he pointed out that his is a small team of
only about 10 people. "We're small on purpose. We're focused more
on growing our partnerships rather than growing a large bureaucracy
of innovation," he said.
Technology can -- and does -- become outdated fast,
and in retail environments in particular tech has a spotty history.
More than a decade ago, technology at Prada's much-heralded
futuristic "epicenter" in New York attracted more tourists than
shoppers -- that is until much of the technology failed and was
abandoned. Mr. Nel said store associates will be trained on "all
intricacies and possibilities" to ensure a good experience and that
Lowe's will closely monitor the test stores. He also believes in
the future of 3D content and augmented reality.
"3D content will become the new standard for how
people interact," added Scott Susskind, co-CEO and co-CTO at
SciFutures. He cited rumors of Amazon's 3D phone and Google's Project Tango, which
pushes virtual experiences on mobile devices. "In the very near
future, they'll scan their own room and augment their own space. 3D
content and channels that support it will be the new standard."