Home Depot Inc. has just announced a bold new e‑commerce initiative, shutting down its big box stores in China in favor of a share in the country’s massive online home improvement market.
In a move that will interest every aspiring e‑commerce manager and e‑commerce analyst, the company is expanding its online presence in the most densely populated country on the planet, after realizing that large bricks-and-mortar stores weren’t compatible with Chinese consumers’ needs.
The e‑commerce bandwagon gathers momentum
The move toward e‑commerce by traditionally store-based retailers is becoming something of a trend. Wal-Mart Inc. recently launched a new semantically based search engine that has boosted its online sales by 10 — 15 percent in just three months. And, to improve the shopping experience for its store-based customers, it’s piloting a new smartphone app that scans the barcodes of the goods while shopping. All the consumer has to do is pay at the checkout.
Whilst the latter isn’t strictly e‑commerce, it does reflect how digital technology is leading to new ways of easing customer experience and capturing market share — precisely what Home Depot is aiming for in China.
Speaking to the Reuters Retail and Consumer Summit on Friday, Home Depot’s Chief Financial Officer, Carol Tome, said that unlike home improvement markets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, China simply doesn’t have the same kind of project-oriented consumer. Instead, Chinese customers tend to want their “do-it-yourself” projects carried about by someone else.
A prudent decision
The online route seems to suit Chinese consumers more than the big store approach, a discovery which has led Home Depot to close down all seven of its “big box” Chinese big stores.
Tome has clearly been paying close attention to consumer requirements in China since she took operational responsibility there a year and a half ago. Announcing the firm’s intention to “keep learning”, she can take some comfort in remarks made by Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter, who deemed the closure of the stores a “prudent decision.”
There’s certainly paydirt to be hit – Balter estimates the Chinese market for paint, home furnishings and furniture to be worth around $20 billion. Following Tome’s announcement, Home Depot’s shares rose by 2.3 percent on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, reaching $59.65.