MOBILITY

Lowe’s VR app spurs project planning

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A home improvement chain is helping shoppers better envision how to design and build their homes.

Though a partnership with Google, Lowe’s launched the Lowe's Vision app. Powered by Tango, a 3D technology developed by Google, the app leverages augmented and virtual reality to enable shoppers to begin planning their renovation needs before they even set foot inside a store.

“The Lowe's Vision app enables customers to easily measure any room in their home with the touch of a finger, and style it with virtual Lowe's products in real-time through augmented reality,” according to Lowe’s. The app is available to shoppers using the Tango-Enabled Phab 2 Pro smartphone.

Augmented and virtual reality is not a new project for Lowe’s. For the past two years, the chain has been developing visualization capabilities using these 3D reality tools. Lowe’s most recent initiative includes its “Holoroom How To” virtual reality-based classes, where a virtual reality headset and set of controllers immerses shoppers in a DIY project.

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DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION

Off-price giant to debut new store banner this summer

BY Marianne Wilson

TJX Cos. is importing one of its Canadian/European brands to the United States.

Last year, the off-price retailer announced that it planned to launch a new home concept in the United States in 2017, with the business operated as a complement to TJX’s existing HomeGoods chain, which has nearly 600 stores. On its first-quarter earnings call last week, the retailer said the new format would debut in late summer under the HomeSense banner. HomeSense is the name of a TJX-owned chain that operates some 110 stores in Canada, and 46 in Europe.

TJX plans to open several U.S. HomeSense stores this year. It did not reveal details of the locations except to say one store will be in its home base of Framingham, Mass. On the call, TJX chief executive Ernie Herrman said that HomeSense will provide shoppers with a "dramatically different” shopping experience" than HomeGoods . He also said HomeSense will differ in the way it is designed and operationally executed. The two concepts will also feature different product categories.

“HomeSense will offer customers a different mix of home fashions than HomeGoods, but at the same great value,” Herrman said. “We believe we are significantly underpenetrated in the total U.S. home market and feel there is enormous opportunity for us to gain share in this space.”

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REAL ESTATE

Why college towns are brilliant for retail

BY Al Urbanski

Deborah Butler grew up in a college town. More importantly, she watched her family grow one store into a mega-retail-complex in Gainesville, Florida, that keeps on growing. The University of Florida has been very, very good to Butler and her family, and Butler has lots to say about the symbiotic relationship of higher education and retail.

“It’s like having an entire city within your city, the population and buying power of which are largely not reflected in the official data for the area,” said Butler, president of Butler Enterprises, which operates three shopping centers under the rubric of The Neighborhoods of Butler.

“When the students return for classes each August, we have our first Christmas season of the year,” said Butler.

Butler Enterprises calculates that the 50,000 students of UF annually spend about $125 million on restaurants, $92 million on groceries, and $35 million on clothing. That economic impact emanates not just from students, but family members, alumni, and sports fans who fill the 1,000 hotel rooms that surround Butler Plaza, Butler North and Butler Town Center.

The student effect on retail sales is often underestimated, said Butler, because while students may not report high incomes, their parents generally do. Average family income for Florida students is $106,700, and 30% of students come from households scoring in the top 10% of earners in Florida.

So while many retail centers falter, the marketplace finds Butler announcing plans for Residences and Terraces at Butler. Currently under construction is Butler Town Center at Stengel Field, which will offer up the region’s first Whole Foods Market, as well as a 14-screen Regal Cinema and a P.F. Chang’s.

“We are including even more dining options, including a chef-curated Food Hall at Butler Town Center, Butler said. “It will become a key destination for our residents, our region, and our much-loved students.”

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