If you do any kind of home remodeling or kitchen cabinets installation – whether something as simple as painting your kitchen, or on up to full-scale remodeling in the capacity of a contractor or homeowner – then Lowe’s and Home Depot are both a fact of life.
Try as you might to religiously pick up mulch and plants at your local nursery, tools at your friendly little Ace Hardware, and wood at your local lumber yard, you eventually have to come to these stores for something.
They may be your best buddies or worst enemies, but they are not going away anytime soon.
Following is feedback I have received over 10 years of writing about home remodeling, incorporated with my own experiences.
1. Customer Service: Experience and Advice
Lumber yard/supply houses tend to be staffed by very knowledgeable–and often very grumpy–older men, many of whom were once in the trades. If you want to parse the differences between two types of arcane plumbing pipe, this is the place to go.
Neither Lowe’s nor Home Depot has that type of staff. But the consensus of readers–and my experiences–indicate that Home Depot has a somewhat more experienced staff. Since most of these employees did not come from the trades, this may mean that Home Depot has a higher employee retention rate.
2. Accepting Returns
Winner: Equally good and equally bad
Lowe’s and Home Depot’s CEOs are not aware of this, but the return desk is their single biggest PR opportunity.
First, the basics. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot are relaxed about accepting returns. Return with receipt, get cash back; return without receipt, get store credit. If you used a credit card, you do not need to show a receipt, as your credit card is recognized when you swipe for the return.
But returns go beyond this.
It is the first counter that serious DIYers visit upon entering the store (because there is always something to return). Yet it is always understaffed and overflowing with carts of items that need to be restocked. And the more time that customers wait in line at returns, the less time they have to shop.
3. Solving Your Customer Service Problems
Winner: Home Depot
At some point, there must have been a memo passed from Home Depot CEO Menear to every employee, saying, “Fix the customer’s problem, however you have to do it.”
I have multiple stories that illustrate Home Depot employees fixing things for me (and far fewer Lowe’s stories). Two of my favorite:
I cannot find the $49 Ryobi hammer-drill that I wanted and tell the person I am with that I am unhappy about having to spend $79 for the Makita hammer-drill. A Home Depot employee overhears me and says that she will give me the Makita for the Ryobi price–no hassle, no questions asked. She even walks me to the register to smooth over the process for me.
The Cadet baseboard heater that I essentially bought for one penny.
4. Prioritizing Selling Products to Customers Over Restocking Shelves
Winner: Home Depot
Products move off of shelves; shelves need to be restocked.
This is understood.
At both stores, restocking happens while customers are shopping. Yet at Lowe’s, employees are laser-focused on this activity. Customers must shop around the employees. At Lowe’s, I am continually thwarted from buying items simply because employees have blocked off the area for long periods.
One morning at Lowe’s, I witnessed three contractors (who generally are decisive buyers because they need to get to job-sites) barred from an entire tile aisle because the employees had netted it shut. While this is an event at either Lowe’s or Home Depot for safety reasons, it happens more often and for longer periods at Lowe’s. The contractors patiently waited several minutes and then left without purchasing anything.
5. Lower Prices
This is a pointless battle to engage in, as prices readjust all the time.
On an ongoing basis, with all prices averaged out, Home Depot and Lowe’s have basically the same prices.
Lowe’s and Home Depot stores engage in competitive pricing. For example, today at Home Depot, 1/2″ 4′ x 8′ drywall is $10.76 per panel. At Lowe’s, it is $10.76 per panel. This is no coincidence.
At Home Depot, 100 ft. of 1/2″ PEX pipe is $28.52. At Lowe’s, it is $27.95.
That is not to say you cannot find spot deals that are particular to a certain moment in time. On one weekend, Lowe’s might be offering a common item such as a cedar fence privacy panel for $30.85, while Home Depot is offering them for $36.25. So, it does pay to be aware of each store’s weekend sales.
6. Better Online Store
There was a time–not too long ago–when Lowe’s online site felt like it was designed by two college kids on spring break. Home Depot’s site was easy to navigate, light-weight, with smartly-designed filters.
Lowe’s has followed Home Depot’s lead, and now its site is comparable to Home Depot’s. This is a very recent development.
Not only that, Lowe’s will deliver heavy items–fence panels, masonry, landscape rock, and the like–that many Home Depots will not deliver.
7. Wider Brand Opportunities
Winner: Both equally fail
We all know about store brands and exclusive brands.
Lowe’s has Kobalt and Task Force branded tools, both decent but not amazing. It also carries Utilitech lighting. Lowe’s is also the store that carries Pella new-construction windows, which I find inferior to its nearest competitor, Andersen.
Home Depot has Behr and Glidden paints. And it carries Ryobi tools, extensively covered in our tool guides. It also carries RIDGID, typically the cheapest way to purchase some tools such as wet tile saws.
Yet both fail in their obsession with locking in these exclusive brands. Consumers want choices; they do not want to buy a Toro lawnmower simply because Home Depot offers 37 Toro lawnmowers (and one Ryobi cordless mower).
8. More Pleasant Store Atmosphere
Winner: Home Depot
By atmosphere, we’re talking about lighting, the width of aisles, cleanliness, keeping areas stocked and organized, etc.
Both stores tend to be close in terms of atmosphere, but I feel that Home Depot’s stores have surpassed Lowe’s.
From kitchen upgrades to total home remodeling, SemBro Designs and Remodeling knows how to do it right and we love to build the confidence of every Columbus client, year after year.
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