Why The Home Depot quietly brought live streaming to its consumers

covid production

When the pandemic hit the U.S. last spring, The Home Depot turned in-person workshops, a long-running feature of their in-store experience, into live streams. The result is shaping up to be a new customer engagement and retention channel, thanks to two Home Depot associates giving advice from their garages.

Using the live streams, found on The Home Depot website, the company went from hosting around five in-store workshops per month to approximately 40 live-streaming shows every month. The live-stream shows (DIY and Homeowner 101) each average “hundreds of participants” and have a capped attendance, said Marshall Weiss, director of brand development and marketing at The Home Depot. He declined to share specific figures in terms of the cap, but in a recent episode in the Homeowner 101 series about home systems, one customer lamented in the chat box how quickly the registration fills up.

To sign up, viewers input their first name, last name and email. The streams are neither sponsored nor shoppable, although the associates hosting the show will drop a product link in the Q&A chat if a customer asks. At the end of the show, viewers are asked questions about how helpful they found the stream and what they’d like to see in the future. For the Homeowner 101 series, viewers also confirm their email addresses so they can receive a 15% off coupon a few days post-show to be used for an online purchase. 

“[The coupons] are meant to be a benefit for new customers and new homeowners,” said Weiss, but declined to share what percent of coupons were redeemed.

The company had been planning to add live streaming, and the pandemic only accelerated the initiative, according to Lisa DeStefano, vp of brand strategy at The Home Depot. “We stood it up quickly because we didn’t want to leave our customers without our knowledge, especially when they were doing more projects than ever,” she said.

The Home Depot saw sales surge as Americans on pandemic-induced lockdown used their time at home on all kinds of DIY improvements. Online and app sales increase 86% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a Home Depot spokesperson. Now, the company is looking to expand the already popular program into a key channel for acquiring and retaining customers by bringing their associates know-how right into consumers’ homes. 

The live streams aren’t promoted on the company’s social media channels. Instead, The Home Depot links out to them on their YouTube videos, customer emails, and relies heavily on the company website. The plan is to update in-store signage later this summer to spread the word about the live streams, and local store information online will show in-person as well as live-streamed workshops, even as the coronavirus hopefully diminishes.

The faces of Home Depot’s live streams are Joe Cobb and Leland Sproul, two longtime Home Depot associates based in Georgia. Behind the scenes, they’re helped by a producer, IT support and an instructional designer to make the shows flow. Cobb and Sproul both host the streams from their home garages (yes, really) with just a computer, and any products they think would be helpful for demonstrating. In a recent Homeowner 101 series, Cobb held up different kinds of air filters while walking through the pros and cons of each. 

“It’s a smart way to gain new customers,” said Tim Glomb, vp of content and data at Cheetah Digital, an email marketing company focusing on zero- and first-party data. “The live streams allow them to own the brand experience, unlike on YouTube, where you don’t get that level of data on who’s watching. Making their own live stream can let them tap into that, and follow up with questions.” 

Even though the streams might get a smaller amount of viewers than a YouTube video, that’s still effective market research, especially when combined with the coupons. “They don’t need mass scale — they just need a few hundred really great data points,” Glomb added.

Home Depot, Lowe’s and Tractor Supply are a few of the pandemic winners, thanks in large part to the surge in home and lawn improvement as Americans fixed up their surroundings. Last year, Home Depot fulfilled 60% of its online orders through stores.

“No one wanted to see a pandemic happen, but what happened last year was really serendipitous for home improvement,” said Dave Marcotte, svp of global insights and technology at Kantar Retail. Teaching consumers how to build, paint and tile has long been a part of Home Depot’s strategy. “They knew they had to teach people how to fix things so they would buy the tools and materials from them,” he said. 

When asked why the streams weren’t shoppable, Weiss replied, “We are just getting going here, and we have a lot in the pipeline in the coming months. This is just the next evolution of our workshop program.”

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