Abhay Tandon, Director and Head, Lowe’s Innovation Labs

We believe in narrative driven innovation, where we focus on solving for problems and accordingly utilise multiple emerging technologies in building solutions, Abhay Tandon said.

Aug 03, 2020 08:08 IST India Infoline News Service

Abhay Tandon, Director and Head, Lowe’s Innovation Labs
Abhay Tandon is the director for Lowe’s innovation labs heading the innovation function in Lowe’s India. In the past, Abhay has helped establish the Target Accelerator Program and has set up the Innovation Brewery – Corporation at AbInBev. He also has extensive experience working in startups and VC based roles. He is an alumnus of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai and IESEG School of Business, France. Apart from being passionate about Innovation, Abhay enjoys spending his time watching sci-fi shows and is a travel aficionado.

Tell us about Lowe’s India and Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

About Lowe’s and Lowe’s India:
Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (NYSE: LOW) is a FORTUNE® 50 home improvement company serving approximately 18 million customers a week in the United States and Canada. With the fiscal year 2019 sales of $72.1 billion, Lowe’s and its related businesses operate or service more than 2,200 home improvement and hardware stores and employ approximately 300,000 associates.
Lowe’s India is the retail technology and analytics center for Lowe’s Companies, Inc. With more than 2,500 associates, Lowe’s India focuses on technology, analytics, business operations and shared services.

About Lowe’s Innovation Labs:
Lowe’s Innovation Labs is the innovation hub for FORTUNE 50 retailer Lowe’s Companies, Inc. Lowe’s Innovation Labs is what’s next for home improvement retail. Through emerging technologies, the Labs has a dual focus: to accelerate the experiences our customers and associates expect today, while simultaneously developing the capabilities that will power tomorrow.
CONSTRUCT by Lowe’s Innovation Labs is our signature start-up engagement program. It’s a flexible, lightweight accelerator, open to deep technology companies of all sizes and at all stages and focused on re-imagining, prototyping and bringing to market the future of home improvement retail.

CONSTRUCT is designed to be a flexible alternative to traditional corporate accelerators. Keeping with Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ mission to use exponential technology to accelerate experiences that customers expect today and to deliver tomorrow’s breakthrough capabilities, the program is open to deep technology companies of all sizes and at all stages. Programming centres around highly personalised, one-on-one working relationships, access to internal and external mentors, and an emphasis on working together to reimagine, prototype and ultimately bring to market the future of home improvement retail.

Key features of the CONSTRUCT program include:
• SIZE AND STAGE AGNOSTIC: Start-ups of all sizes and stages are welcome to participate in this program, with projects tailored to a company’s unique strengths and capabilities. Areas of focus range from practical near-term retail solutions to longer-range “Future of Home” initiatives.
• FLEXIBLE AND LIGHTWEIGHT: The program accepts applicants on a rolling basis and is designed to last between 2-6 months. We provide a start-up-friendly environment designed to expedite onboarding, project definition and scoping.
• FOCUS ON REAL-WORLD EXECUTION: Whether we’re looking at near-term solutions for the home improvement retail or long-range envisioning for the section, Lowe’s Innovation Labs will work with start-up partners to quickly move project work from concept to testable reality.
• 1:1 ATTENTION: CONSTRUCT is designed around our start-up partners, and as part of the program, we provide personalised attention from a group of global mentors comprising of functional and technical leaders at Lowe’s, as well as external mentors from VCs, Corporates and enablers and more.

How would the accelerator program help the start-ups in India?

CONSTRUCT by Lowe’s Innovation Labs is our signature start-up engagement program, which we launched in Bangalore on 17th June. It is our first Indian cohort and has seven startups from across India focusing on a variety of areas across the value chain of retail. It’s a flexible, lightweight accelerator, open to deep technology companies of all sizes and at all stages and focused on re-imagining, prototyping and bringing to market the future of home improvement retail.

Since Construct in focused on both incremental and disruptive innovation, it gives startups in the country an opportunity to work with a Fortune 50 company to co-develop and/ or validate their solutions in the real-world retail environment through emerging technologies, resulting in highly innovative and value-driven solutions. I firmly believe that India is home to a wide network of innovators developing solutions to global issues. This program enables partnerships with the brightest minds in India to reinvent home improvement retail through our guidance and support.

In the inaugural cohort we have seven startups from across India, representing a diverse range of interests including merchandising, AI-driven trend forecasting, automated content generation, talent acquisition, hyper-real AI and sustainable, next-gen home construction technology.

How is Lowe's leveraging emerging technologies to build the future of retail?

We believe in narrative-driven innovation, where we focus on solving problems and accordingly utilise multiple emerging technologies in building solutions. These problems could be across the value chain of retail across themes which could enhance and provide a seamless and frictionless experience to our consumers and associates. By predicting the consumer trends and the everchanging requirements, we build solutions which are applicable in building solutions which are relevant for the future of Home Improvement.

We have done extensive work in emerging technologies such as 3D and Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision and Deep Learning etc. and continue to focus on themes basis our mission statement around current and futuristic themes such as Tactile E-commerce, Faster than Light Fulfilment etc.

Our participants in the first cohort of Construct have capabilities which depict the same:
• Stylumia: A Bangalore-based startup focused on providing product insights through its AI-powered consumer-driven, demand-sensing engine for seen and unseen products
• Infilect: A Bangalore-based startup with strong computer vision capabilities and AI platforms, helping brands and retailers in measuring, monitoring and improving retail processes such as product distribution, placement and sales.
• StoryXpress: A Delhi NCR-based startup with an end-to-end video marketing platform that enables brands and retailers to convert their e-commerce product catalogs into videos at a fraction of the standard time and cost.
• Headway.ai: A Bangalore-based startup focused on talent management powered by AI and behavioural science, helping talent acquisition teams function faster with deep talent analytics.
• Moodboard: A Bangalore-based startup focused on using AI to craft actionable insights from the vast, unstructured resources of the open web to help lifestyle brands and retailers personalise product decisions.
• Rephrase.ai: A Bangalore-based startup focused on building generative AI tools to make professional automated human-like videos with applications involving Hyperreal AI.
• Nanospan: A Hyderabad-based startup focused on nanotechnology, producing graphene and nano composites with applications in building the next-gen homes, defence tech and energy storage.

What new technologies can be adopted by retailers in the post-covid era?

The rapidly changing retail environment is reflective of more aware customers who are looking for higher convenience, specific products and faster access. It is thus highly important for retailers to continue to evolve with the changing consumer behavioural patterns, keeping ‘customer centricity’ at the core of their overall transformation exercise, thereby developing seamless and frictionless experiences for the customers across the channels.

Some of the key changes in the pattern include consumers becoming more conscious of spending across specific categories, their health and safety and an overall seamless experience. This means consumers are looking at a more phygital (physical + digital) and safer environment to shop and faster access to their products. It is thereby important for retailers to create a safe and contact-less environment for their customers in physical stores and provide a smoother and more engaging experience on their digital channels.

Lowe’s for example ensured seamless experiences across additional channels such as BOPIS (Buy Online and Pickup In Store), Curbside Pickup apart from measures in stores such as removal of non-essential marketing in order to reduce store traffic in accordance with stay at home announcements, putting procedures in place for limiting foot traffic in high selling categories within stores like paints, gardening etc such as additional signage and floor markers, new tech on associate devices to monitor store traffic etc. On the digital channels we are working towards building a stronger tactile e-commerce environment to have stronger engagement with our customers with technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), Big Data and Analytics, AR (Augmented Reality)/ VR (Virtual Reality), Hyperreality, Haptics etc.

What are the future plans of Lowe’s innovations labs in India?

We strongly believe in that India is home to a wide network of innovators developing solutions to global issues. We have set up CONSTRUCT as a way to partner with the brightest minds to reinvent home improvement retail and will continue to build on the partnerships with various stakeholders such as Startups, Academia, Researchers, enablers etc. to co-develop world class innovative products to deliver on our promise of re-imagining, prototyping and bringing to market the future of home improvement retail.

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