Two years ago, when EVP and CIO Seemantini Godbole took on her role at Lowe's, she found a company website that used on-premise technology. It was the symbol of a need to upgrade, and equip the brand with the technology to compete.
The legacy technology did not match the ambitions of incoming President and CEO Marvin Ellison, who took over in July of 2018. In December of the same year, Lowe's laid out a plan to begin yearly IT investments of around $500 million through 2021, and got to work under Godbole's leadership.
But in 2020, the roadmap for technology modernization was placed into new context, as lockdown orders buoyed online traffic. Deemed an essential business, nearly 2,000 Lowe's stores in the U.S. and Canada remained open. Despite the added pressure, pausing digital transformation was off the table.
"We said 'no, actually, we are going to double down and go faster,'" said Godbole, who previously worked for Target.
In the pandemic response, Lowe's 2018 innovation playbook became foreboding. Godbole's initiative to push the company down the path of modernization, with resources to back it up, helped it adjust to the pandemic. Technology supported the influx of digital sales and enabled changes to operations and product delivery.
"Whether it's our pricing systems, promotion, inventory, the way we set up our items — all that is being done in-house."
EVP and CIO, Lowe's
Technology upgrades in the roadmap might not have been initially thought of as a response to the pandemic but they would later prove to be "really helpful to both our customers and our associates, from a perspective of trying to maintain as much normalcy as we can," Godbole said.
Cloud migration was of special interest. Lowe's website began to see traffic soar as lockdown orders ensued. "Every week through Q1 and Q2 was like a Black Friday week," said Godbole.
At least part of the surge can be explained via shifts in public behavior.
"During a pandemic or lockdown people get cabin fever," said George Lawrie, VP, principal analyst at Forrester, in an email. "Trapped at home, an urge to make improvements invariably drives them to Home Depot, Lowe's or similar."
In the cloud, companies facing traffic spikes saw an avenue for scaling. "That elastic capacity would be there, when you needed it, and somebody else would be managing it for you far away," said Lawrie.
The ability to respond enabled growth in Lowe's second quarter, as sales grew to $27.3 billion, up from $21 billion year over year. Lowes.com sales increased by 135%. Moving Lowes.com from "a decade-old infrastructure to the cloud" was a key strategy toward those results, CEO Ellison said in August, during the company's second quarter earnings call.
"The ability for Seemantini and her team to get this replatforming effort done in the second quarter is monumental for us because it gives us so much agility and flexibility to build on that platform," Ellison said.
The migration of Lowes.com to the cloud was expected to conclude between August and September. In the face of soaring traffic, Godbole's team sped up the shift of customers to the new platform and completed the migration in July.
Technology also let the brand respond to the public demand for contactless commerce driven by public health concerns. Curbside pick-up capabilities were available to the public within six weeks, Godbole said.
One-third of consumers are likely to continue seeking curbside pick-up options once stay-at-home orders subside, according to a Forrester report.
"The ability for Seemantini and her team to get this replatforming effort done in the second quarter is monumental for us."
President and CEO, Lowe's
Nimble responses to changes in the business landscape speak to Godbole's strategy of moving software production in-house, an early mandate in her tenure at Lowe's.
"Whether it's our pricing systems, promotion, inventory, the way we set up our items: all that is being done in-house," said Godbole. It's a strategy that has allowed Lowe's to give differentiated capabilities to its customers. But it also responds to the stability and scalability of the platforms.
"Because all these systems are being built ground up, they are being built for scale, and they are being built so that they are omnichannel from the very beginning," said Godbole.