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Exclusive: The Home Depot’s Andrew Fritts Shares How Computer Vision Is Wrapping up Holiday Prep

Technology Senior Director at The Home Depot tells RIS why computer vision is set to "transform inventory management" and how the tech is helping store associates prep and stock stores for the holiday rush.
Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman
Home Depot Headshot
Andrew Fritts, technology senior director, The Home Depot.

Associates at The Home Depot have been busy this month – to say the least – prepping stores and stocking up for the holidays. While the same could be said for most retailer workers, The Home Depot staff have a special retail technology up their sleeves (or aprons) this holiday season: computer vision. 

In the midst of stocking shelves to prepare for the annual Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday influx, RIS News caught up with Andrew Fritts, technology senior director at The Home Depot, to learn how the home improvement retailer is using its homegrown mobile app Sidekick to wrap up its holiday prep.

In a nutshell, Sidekick prioritizes tasks for associates with the help of computer vision. When RIS last caught up with The Home Depot, the company had released Sidekick following the launch and store rollout of hdPhones, developed in collaboration with Zebra Technologies, HPE, and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company. Since then – and in under a year – all of Home Depot’s 2,000-plus U.S. stores are now equipped with hdPhones and Sidekick for all scheduled associates.

“As we’ve continued to iterate Sidekick this year, we’ve incorporated computer vision to help associates prioritize tasks,” Fritts explains. “Computer vision analyzes photos of our overhead shelves to identify which products need to be restocked and where in the shelf they are. Sidekick then prioritizes the items in high demand and guides associates to specific locations with the replacement product. In turn, customers can trust that The Home Depot will stay stocked with everything they need and it will be where they expect.”

When asked what the company has learned over the last year, Fritts notes that self-learning is inherent in Sidekick’s system – “that’s the most exciting thing about this technology.”

“To improve, though,” he adds, “we ask stores for feedback to ensure the solution exceeds customer and associate expectations. We’ve also been closely monitoring the tasks that associates were able to execute with support from Sidekick to further train our algorithm and provide increasingly accurate tasks.”

This ongoing work throughout the year is paying off as The Home Depot preps for peak selling season. With millions of Americans shopping in person between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, retailers are in need of efficient ways to maintain inventory and support an influx of customers. 

“Using computer vision in Sidekick helps associates navigate these challenges without letting the customer experience fall by the wayside,” says Fritts. “It keeps them productive, inventory managed, and products within quick reach of our customers, saving them time as they make headway on their shopping lists.”

Employee engagement and retention is yet another concern for retailers as the industry enters the holidays and retailers bolster their seasonal workforce. Designed to be easy to use for even first-day associates, Sidekick does not require formal training, Fritts tells RIS. 

“Moreover, feedback on Sidekick has been overwhelmingly positive so far: the app increases productivity and saves time, letting associates focus on assisting customers. Associates have reported being happier with more time for customer support instead of counting inventory and locating product.”

Sidekick tech.

Narrowing the Inventory Gap

The Home Depot is applying computer vision technology to “narrow the gap” between its in-stock inventory — when the retailer’s systems indicate a product is in-store — and its on-shelf inventory — products on shelf and available for sale to the customer. It’s been “bullish” on the rollout of computer vision technology to help with this, Ann-Marie Campbell, EVP, U.S. stores and international operations, noted during the company’s Q2 2023 earnings call.

“All year, this technology bridges the longstanding gap between what is listed ‘in stock’ and what is actually available and easily findable,” says Fritts. “Computer vision is more accurate and faster than the human eye, saving time and providing a more seamless, interconnected shopping experience. Since rollout, we have seen meaningful improvements in on-shelf availability, higher customer service scores, and increased associate engagement and productivity. We also believe this will help in-stock accuracy moving forward.”

Inventory management is a year-round challenge that is exacerbated during the holiday season. 

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Heading into 2024, Fritts advises retailers should approach emerging technology from their unique perspective and evaluate whether it’s an irrelevant hype cycle or a solution they need. 

“That being said, computer vision offers many capabilities most retailers would benefit from during this time, such as real-time inventory visibility and precise location data, which can be applied in many ways,” he adds. “Computer vision is set to transform inventory management, ushering in an era where retailers can reduce time on mundane tasks and be more confident in the amount and location of inventory, both of which improve customer interactions.”

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