USA update

The Home Depot doubles down on cloud computing

Google Cloud and The Home Depot have extended their multi-year partnership to expand on the retailer's digital transformation, and provide customers with enhanced shopping experiences by blending physical and digital environments

While experiencing 86% growth in digital sales in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Home Depot relied on Google Cloud's technology infrastructure to meet an unprecedented surge in online customer demand. The company's CIO, Matt Carey, said:

To provide our customers with the flexibility to shop whenever and however they want, we've been intensely focused on building an innovative foundation for our systems and applications.
We've built on Google Cloud since 2015, giving us the scalability and flexibility we need to meet growing demand and quickly introduce more personalised experiences for customers.

The home-improvement chain credits the cloud with helping it move fast in response to shifting market trends and plans to extend its cloud-services deal with Google Cloud.

Mr Carey said pushing deeper into the cloud will allow the company to enhance existing digital services and support new ones, like a recently launched tool that generates more accurate cost estimates for kitchen renovation projects.

Cloud computing has become essential to mining sales, website traffic and other data sources for customer insights, and responding to rapidly changing market trends, he added.

Home Depot has already rolled out a number of cloud-based services this year including a rental system for heavy equipment, accessed by a mobile app.

Other new capabilities include the use of artificial intelligence and natural-language recognition software to support voice-activated product searches, which can identify groups of items that would be typically needed for specific projects.

On the operational side, the company is using AI-enabled software to predict inventory shortages and pinpoint products that need to be restocked before they run out. Smart software is also being used to keep closer tabs on supply chains, by tracking and analysing larger amounts of logistics data. Mr. Carey told the Wall Street Journal:

Right now, we are in hurricane season and have a number of models actively watching weather activity and inventory.

As demand rises in some areas for things like chain saws and generators, "our replenishment teams can quickly identify where we can reroute those types of products to areas in greater need," he explains.

The big box retailer had begun shifting its information-technology systems and customer-service software into the cloud - and out of its own data centres - before the pandemic hit. Currently it uses Google Cloud to host its website and operate a structured enterprise data warehouse. It taps other cloud providers for a range of other services, like "data lakes," or vast repositories of raw data.

The continuing shift to the cloud, which has provided near limitless computing storage and power, has enabled Home Depot to handle sharp spikes in online traffic, Mr. Carey said.

More robust cloud systems helped IT teams quickly spin out apps designed to meet coronavirus safety guidelines and store restrictions such as services like curbside pickups, he said.

At any given point during the pandemic, we were responding to more than 600 local regulations across the country. Our infrastructure was key to helping us stay nimble.

For the quarter ended May 2, Home Depot's tally of customer transactions - both in-store and online - rose to 447.2 million in the quarter, from 374.8 million a year earlier, the company said.

Carrie Tharp, vice president of Google Cloud's retail and consumer unit, said the pandemic supercharged the shift to e-commerce and omnichannel services, spanning everything from websites and online stores, to mobile apps, emails and texts. She told the Wall Street Journal:

Customer expectations are higher than ever. Shoppers are expecting new contactless ways to make in-store purchases, and personalised, seamless online experiences.

According to Google's own data, roughly half of consumers say they intend to shop both in stores and online, more than double the pre-pandemic average, Ms. Tharp said.

Related: Home Depot launches "rent online, pick up in-store" technology.

Home Depot customers can now reserve and rent equipment online up to 30 days in advance - HNN Flash #52, July 2021
  • Sources: Wall Street Journal and PR Newswire
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