Forgive me if this sounds archaic: home improvement is still a man’s world. Despite the fact that many “Honey-Do” lists are evolving into “Honey-I-Can-Do” mantras thanks to the increasing influence of Pinterest, blogs, and an age of “look what I did” D-I-Y social sharing, the female segment in the home improvement category is still trailing her male counterparts.

Case in point: the Home Depot upswing. The retailer’s 7% comp store sales increases in Q4 2012 eclipsed the 1.9% increase posted by rival Lowe’s. Home Depot’s stock has also become a star performer as of late, recently reaching a 52 week high, once again outpacing Lowe’s. With the housing market and our Happiness Score – a leading indicator of key economic markers, including housing starts – perking up, it seems that Home Depot is better positioned to take advantage of the possible housing spoils to come this spring.

So what’s wrong with Lowe’s?

At first glance, the big box seems to be holding its own, having climbed in customer preference share over the past few years, as Home Depot has remained relatively stagnant. Upon closer inspection, though, it’s apparent that Lowe’s most loyal customers are consistently dominated by females, while Home Depot maintains a more even mix of shoppers. This is significant because men, on average, tend to spend upwards of 35% more per month on home improvement supplies than females. In other words, two male shoppers are worth about three female shoppers, and while we generally think in “more is better” terms, in this case, the male segment is simply the more efficient [read: lucrative] group for a home improvement retailer to target.

This might not be quite such a predicament for Lowe’s if it dominated customer share among females, but this percentage generally lags that of females shopping Home Depot. Over the past 12 months, the percentage of females shopping Home Depot most often outweighed those shopping Lowe’s by an average of 7%, though it’s worth noting that this difference has narrowed to about 3% in the past six months. Among the more lucrative male segment, this gap is even wider with men shopping Home Depot most often outpacing Lowe’s male loyalists by an average of about 18% over the past year.

According to our intel among men shopping Home Depot, location is a major determining factor when choosing to shop this chain – just as important as price and merchandise selection. With a U.S. store count currently eclipsing Lowe’s by about 15%, it appears that Home Depot will be able to maintain this edge for the foreseeable future.

However, Lowe’s still possesses several positives, according to its current shoppers. Among both male and female patrons, customer service, in-store experience, store appearance, and store layout were shopping motivators more likely to be cited than with their Home Depot-minded counterparts.

Further, according to the Net Promoter Score* (NPS®) metric of customer loyalty and satisfaction used for this analysis, Lowe’s male shoppers maintain a NPS® that is more than double the overall average for shoppers in home improvement category (“average”). The NPS® for Lowe’s females is even more impressive – TRIPLE the overall average. While the NPS® among Home Depot shoppers is well above average, too, it’s not quite as elevated as the NPS® tallied for Lowe’s. With Lowe’s shoppers feeling more compelled to recommend this retailer to family, friends, and others, the bonds of loyalty to Lowe’s may be a bit stronger than those for Home Depot.

Collectively, these insights seem to echo Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare fable. The Hare, er Home Depot, may be charging ahead to the finish line currently, but if Lowe’s can capture those much-needed male shoppers and capitalize on its non-location benefits and customer loyalty, in the long run, this Tortoise might just end up in the lead.

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*Net Promoter, NPS and Net Promoter Score are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, and Fred Reichheld

If Lowe’s Wants to Get Serious About Home Depot, It’ll Have to Man Up
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