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Lowe's vs. Home Depot: Selection

Based solely upon visits to our local Lowe's and Home Depot stores, our initial impression was that Home Depot offers more product variety. In our area, the Lowe's store is much smaller than the Home Depot, leading to the logical conclusion that inventory depends on the size of each store's stock room and display area.

Given that deduction and the fact that counting in-store products would be an impossible task, we assessed the depth of product selection according to the information provided on each store's website.

As it turns out, there's little consistency as to which store carries more items in any given category. Lowe's stocks 545 SKUs of glass backsplash tile to Home Depot's 1,291. In the lineup of single-hung windows, Lowe's offers 687 options compared with 120 at Home Depot and carries seven different window brands to Home Depot's five. Home Depot comes out ahead in toilets (2,200 to 1,023 at Lowe's) and ceramic floor and wall tiles (529 offerings to 136 SKUs at Lowe's). Lowe's edges out its competitor with towel bars (1,095 SKUs to Home Depot's 711), post caps for decking (1,441 to Home Depot's 80), tile grout (395 SKUs to 315 at Home Depot), and electric ranges (433 options compared with 140 at Home Depot). Indeed, Lowe's sells far more brands of appliances than does Home Depot. An associate at our local Lowe's store claimed the retailer can special order any appliance except for a few high-end brands (JennAir, Miele, Wolf, and Viking); a Home Depot team member said the chain offers only Maytag, GE, LG, and Adora (Home Depot's exclusive line, manufactured by GE Cafe).

Window treatments at Lowe's.

Among the eight product categories we researched, Lowe's won by a nose for its slightly broader selection. Then again, had we compared other categories, would we have gotten different results? Maybe. To illustrate the point, one consumer from the Chicago area who posted a comment at Yelp said Lowe's carries more designer options than Home Depot for things like fixtures and home furnishings. Another note on Yelp, referring to the selection at a Brooklyn location, suggests such merchandising strategy comes at the expense of hardware and staple items.

Store Experience and Organization.

When it comes to store organization and overall shopping experience, Lowe's outshines Home Depot. Both retailers present a warehouse-like atmosphere, but during our visits to Lowe's and Home Depot, the former seemed more approachable. The aisles at Lowe's are wider and better lit and mostly clear of displays; when present, they didn't require complex maneuvers to get around. Products were accessible, most within easy reach of an average-height person. Home Depot, by contrast, seemed cramped and hard to navigate. Aisle displays were more obtrusive and stacks of random merchandise in many aisles further impeded our progress. Customer-ready products were stocked the equivalent of a shelf higher than at Lowe's, putting many items out of grab-able reach and caused us to wonder whether we truly wanted to consider them in our shopping comparison because it meant finding an associate to get them down.

Lowe's sells more appliance brands.

We also found product organization to be superior at Lowe's. Signage was larger and price stickers were consistent in look, size, and placement ; there were few, if any, missing tags. At Home Depot, we noticed enough outdated, missing, or inconsistent price tags (e.g., one price on the product itself and another on the signage) to feel both confused and overwhelmed. This was most apparent in the kitchen area. For example, one cabinet brand was letter-coded and accompanied by a reference chart that detailed prices for each letter grade; the price per square foot was also noted on some cabinet door samples but not on others and several contradicted the chart. Additionally, Lowe's grouped like products together, whereas Home Depot often spread them around two or three different areas of the same department. In the kitchen department, Home Depot grouped items by category, rather than by brand or price, making it hard to shop with budget in hand.

No doubt, the overall shopping experience varies by person and location. The blogger at Sound Money Matters, herself a homeowner, writes that it was easier to find what she was looking for at Lowe's. A seasoned DIYer posting on Helium, however, finds Home Depot's layout more intuitive. Online commentary suggests that Lowe's appeals more to women while a MarketWatch article dating to 2007 (the most recent statistical information we could find) reported that females preferred Lowe's to Home Depot, 54% to 46%. The same report found Lowe's to be more popular in the south and northeast, and Home Depot to reign supreme in the west and Midwest.

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