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Home improvement giant to connect with shoppers through Apple’s text app

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Lowe’s Cos. is putting a spin on how its shoppers will connect with its customer service agents.

The home improvement retailer is partnering with Apple for its launch of Business Chat, a feature that will allow consumers to talk to service agents through Apple’s Message app. Customers can use the solution to ask questions, resolve issues, and complete transactions via their iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, according to Apple.

Rather than call a customer service number, users will be able to “text” Lowe’s with a dedicated number and have a text-based conversation with a customer service representative. Responding agents can share links to merchandise information, help schedule appointments or deliveries, and enable users to make purchases using Apple Pay.

All interactions happen directly in the Messages app without having to visit another app or website, according to Apple.

Lowe’s was attracted to the chat-based service as a means of engaging an increasingly digitally savvy customer base. “Serving customers now requires us to be more connected than ever before,” said Gihad Jawhar, VP of digital at Lowe’s. “Our people, systems, processes and efforts must be connected – and they must be in line to create an omnichannel environment that is simple and seamless for everyone.”

Business Chat is also another way for Lowe’s to remove friction across its omnichannel experience.

“We will drive customer engagement by delivering convenience, inspiration, expertise and efficiency across the most relevant moments of the customer’s project journey,” Jawhar added.

Lowe’s will begin offering Business Chat when Apple launches a beta test of the service this spring. Other companies participating in the test include Discover, Hilton, and Wells Fargo, Apple said.

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December existing-home sales slide

BY HBSDealer Staff

Existing-home sales fell 3.6% in December to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.57 million from a downwardly revised 5.78 million in November, the National Association of Realtors reported. But after last month’s fall-off, existing-home sales remain 1% above a year ago.

Total existing-home sales, which includes completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops, increased in 2017 to a 5.51 million sales pace and surpassed 2016’s mark of 5.45 million sales as the highest since 2006 with 6.48 million sales.

“Existing sales concluded the year on a softer note, but they were guided higher these last 12 months by a multi-year streak of exceptional job growth, which ignited buyer demand,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

“At the same time, market conditions were far from perfect. New listings struggled to keep up with what was sold very quickly, and buying became less affordable in a large swath of the country,” Yun explained. “These two factors ultimately muted what should have been a stronger sales pace.”

Affordability continues to be an issue for existing-home buyers with the pool of interested buyers at the end of month being outweighed by what was available for sale. First-time buyers were 32% of sales in December, which is up from 29% in November and unchanged from a year ago.

The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $246,800, a 5.8% increase from December 2016 ($233,300). December’s price increase marks the 70th straight month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of December dropped 11.4% to 1.48 million existing homes available for sale, and is 10.3% lower than the 1.65 million available last year. The total has fallen year-over-year for 31 consecutive months, the NAR reported. Unsold inventory is at a 3.2-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 3.6 months a year ago and is the lowest level since NAR began tracking in 1999.

Single-family home sales declined 2.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.96 million in December from 5.09 million in November, but are still 1% above the 4.91 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $248,100 in December, up 5.8% from December 2016. Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 11.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in December.

In the Northeast, December existing-home sales fell 7.5% to an annual rate of 740,000, and are now 2.6% below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $261,400, a 3% percent hike from December 2016.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 6.3% to an annual rate of 1.33 million in December, but are 1.5% above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $191,400, up 7.8% from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South decreased 1.7% to an annual rate of 2.3 million in December, but are 3.1% above a year ago. The median price in the South was $221,200, up 5.8% from a year ago.

In the West, sales declined 1.6% to an annual rate of 1.2 million in December, and are now 0.8% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $367,400, up 7.3% from December 2016.

Despite strong U.S. economic conditions, a tight supply will continue to have a big impact on existing-home prices.

“The lack of supply over the past year has been eye-opening and is why, even with strong job creation pushing wages higher, home price gains — at 5.8% nationally in 2017 — doubled the pace of income growth and were even swifter in several markets,” Yun said.

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Lowe’s makes big seasonal hiring push

BY HBSDealer Staff

With its busiest season rapidly approaching, Lowe’s said it plans to hire more than 53,000 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees across the company’s U.S. stores.

In-store seasonal positions, which support stores between March and September, include cashiers, lawn and garden associates, stockers, assemblers of outdoor products and loaders, the company said. Lowe’s currently maintains about 250,000 employees nationwide.

In a press release issued this morning, Lowe’s highlighted some of the benefits of becoming a seasonal employee, including competitive pay, a 10% employee discount, flexible hours and the ability to see a work schedule 17 days in advance and swap shifts with others as needed.

Approximately 200 current store managers started as seasonal employees, and last year nearly 40% of the company's seasonal employees transitioned into permanent part-time and full-time positions, Lowe’s said.

The company also said part-time and full-time employees can take advantage of Lowe's health and wellness benefits, incentive programs, 401(k), a discounted stock purchase plan and tuition reimbursement.

Lowe’s projected the top markets where much of its hiring will take place. The top five include: Boston/Providence/Hartford; Los Angeles/Long Beach/Orange County; Charlotte, N.C.; New York; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Rounding out the top 10 are Atlanta; Indianapolis; Seattle/Tacoma, Wash.; Dallas/Fort Worth; and Detroit.

The second-largest U.S. home improvement retailer operates 2,370 locations, including stores in Canada and Mexico and has more than 290,000 employees overall. 

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