Computer Vision-Enabled App Helps Home Depot Improve On-Shelf Availability

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The Home Depot has one major advantage over competing retailers that keep much of their inventory in back rooms, where it’s invisible to customers and associates alike. With its high store ceilings, the retailer can store many items in shelving way above the sales floor, ready to be taken down and put on reachable shelves.

The problem, of course, is that storing items so high up means it’s nearly impossible to read their labels, barcodes or QR codes, making it difficult to know not just what’s up there but whether it needs to be plucked down, and when. That can negatively affect on-shelf availability and create frustration for both associates and customers.

To address this precise issue, the retailer has empowered its store associates, who already carry hdPhones handheld devices, with a cloud-based computer vision upgrade to the Sidekick app. The devices “have high-quality cameras on them, and we’re instructing our associates to take pictures of the overheads at an appropriate cadence,” throughout the day, said Hari Ramamurthy, a Technology Fellow at The Home Depot in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

Home Depot is on the leading edge with this type of tech usage: the 2023 Retail TouchPoints Store Operations Benchmark Survey revealed that just 28% of retailer respondents’ associates use mobile devices to audit visual merchandising and displays.


Removing the Friction from Locating Merchandise

The Sidekick app uses computer vision and machine learning to digitize this visual information and make it accessible to associates, which allows the retailer to “derive insights from those pictures about what products are available in the overhead, which we use to take out the friction involved in locating merchandise,” Ramamurthy said. He added that all Home Depot associates’ devices will be equipped with this application by Black Friday.

The new functionality “not only improves on-shelf availability; it also frees up associates to spend more time with customers,” said Ramamurthy. Additionally, “it’s an in-store tasking solution that ensures the right task is presented to the right associate at the right time.”

Ramamurthy also noted that the new solution offers “multiple opportunities in different areas of store operations, including asset protection” and loss prevention, as well as supporting online customers by streamlining store-based fulfillment of online orders.

Home Depot developed this latest addition to the Sidekick app using an open-source solution and relied on both customer and associate feedback to further refine its capabilities. “We’re continuously experimenting with the steps we need to take to enhance the application, learning what aspects of the experience work well and don’t work well,” said Ramamurthy. “We’ve listened to the feedback regarding the images themselves and [what the] right cadence should be as part of an iterative process.”

Ramamurthy also expressed “confidence that on-shelf availability will improve, and most importantly, we want [to provide] a frictionless experience for customers.”


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