The decision between using Lowe's vs. Home Depot is a common one during home improvement projects, and finding the right option for your needs can depend on several factors. The differences between these two "big box" home improvement chains are sometimes difficult to discern: Home Depot is Lowe's biggest competitor, and both stores fiercely compete with each other over pricing and high-profit merchandise like tools. Construction materials, appliances, and other products like flooring are typically very similar in price at Lowe's and Home Depot.
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If you do any kind of home remodeling—whether it's as simple as painting your kitchen or as involved as a full-scale renovation—then Lowe's and Home Depot are both a fact of life. Try as you might to religiously pick up mulch and plants at your local nursery, tools at your friendly Ace Hardware, and wood at your local lumberyard, you'll likely have to come to these stores for something eventually. While Home Depot may be more successful than Lowe's in terms of profits, each of these companies offers very similar products, prices, discount opportunities, and customer service. Both have a critical mass that is hard to ignore if you want to get any DIY remodeling done at a reasonable cost.
When determining which company is better for your needs, it's helpful to consider Lowe's and Home Depot's customer service, store atmosphere, return policies, online shopping, and in-store experience alongside each company's wider brand opportunities.
Considerations Before Choosing
To provide a wide sampling, Yelp offers customer reviews of 250 individual Lowe's and Home Depot stores across five major U.S. metropolitan areas. From these 250 stores, review averages were tallied. On a five-star system, Home Depot slightly edged out Lowe's by a half-star. Also, reviews were scanned for comments across eight categories. Overtly vindictive reviews, especially those calling out staff members, were excluded.
Generally, the main difference was not between Lowe's and Home Depot as corporations but between individual stores, since the character of a store is influenced by its store manager and associates. So, one corporation might have a store that received outstanding reviews in one metro area, with that same company having another store in the same area receiving only modest reviews.
Customer Service: Experience, Advice, and Friendliness
Lumberyards and contractor supply houses are often staffed by seasoned veterans of the trades. If you need advice about unusual plumbing pipe, for example, a specialty plumbing supply store frequented by professional plumbers is the place to go.
You won't likely find the same level of expertise at a big box store, but according to Yelp reviews, the staff at both Home Depot and Lowe's were found to be adept at the basics expected of home improvement store employees, such as directing customers to the right aisles and ringing up purchases correctly.
Most negative reviews centered around customer service. Both Home Depot and Lowe's gained their share of one-star reviews, accompanied by complaints about staff members who customers perceived as rude or unfriendly. By the same token, both stores received a fair number of five-star reviews that praised helpful and friendly staff. As might be expected from a review site, though, one-star reviews about customer service outnumbered five-star reviews.
Atmosphere means everything related to the physical store: lighting, the width of aisles, cleanliness, stocked shelves, parking, etc.
Home Depot and Lowe's averaged about the same with reviewers in terms of store atmosphere, with Home Depot reviews tending to be slightly better. However, Lowe's does have the competitive advantage of larger stores (but the garden centers for plants at Lowe's vs. Home Depot are generally equal). Terms like "grimy" and "disorganized" were used to describe the poor store atmosphere with either corporation. In particular, customers felt that the garden centers and lumber areas of both stores were the sections that most suffered from neglect. Broken merchandise was another complaint with reviewers of both Home Depot and Lowe's stores. On the positive side, "airy," "well-lit, and "clean" were typical terms of praise used at both corporations' stores, especially in the tools and appliances areas.
For Lowe's and Home Depot, the return desk is the first thing that customers see when they enter the stores. Overflowing return desk areas are part and parcel of the game, as stores must wait for store associates to move merchandise out. Complaints centered around refusals from both stores to accept merchandise that customers felt should be returnable. Reviewers often viewed both companies' return desks as being understaffed.
Both Lowe's and Home Depot, in general, are lenient about accepting returns. When you return the item with a receipt within a reasonable period, you can get cash back. When you return without a receipt, you can get store credit. If you used a credit card, you do not need to show a receipt, as your credit card is recognized when you swipe for the return.
Wider Brand Opportunities
Both Lowe's and Home Depot carry store brands and exclusive brands. Lowe's has Kobalt and Task Force branded tools, both reviewed as decent but falling short of stellar. Home Depot's exclusive tool brands include Husky, Ryobi, and RIDGID. Lowe's is the store that carries Pella new-construction windows, while Home Depot carries Andersen windows. Home Depot has Behr and Glidden paints; Lowe's has Valspar and some Sherwin-Williams paints.
Both stores tend to be focused on steering customers to specific brands. No reviewers complained about issues like aisle end-caps devoted to store and exclusive brands, but many did take issue with the quality of those brands. In particular, Lowe's customers complained about Kobalt tools, and Home Depot customers complained about Husky brand tools.
Online Shopping and In-Store Pickup
Several reviewers mentioned Lowe's and Home Depot's online shopping experience in conjunction with store pickup. Both stores allow customers to make purchases online, thus tagging in-stock merchandise for pickup at a local store of the customer's choosing.
The few comments that were made about online shopping and in-store pickup centered around items not being ready when the customer arrived. Also, some customers perceived that store associates had pre-selected lower quality items. This did not pertain to boxed goods (such as tools) but with loose items like lumber.
Both Home Depot and Lowe's will deliver heavy items from local stores, including fence panels, masonry, landscape rock, and lumber. Smaller items such as light fixtures, electrical parts, blinds, and tools are serviced from warehouse distribution centers and delivered by parcel post, through FedEx, USPS, or UPS.
When it comes to credit cards at Lowes vs. Home Depot, each store offers its own option: the Lowe's Advantage Card and the Home Depot Consumer Credit Card. However, Lowe's offers slightly higher discounts on large in-store purchases along with a guaranteed 5 percent discount on all eligible purchases. Both stores allow customers to finance purchases on their credit cards with no interest for six months and no annual fees. 10 percent military discounts apply at both stores as well, which do not require a credit card and cover veterans, active service members, and their spouses.
Aisle Shut-Down Procedures
After products move off of shelves, the shelves need to be restocked. At both Lowe's and Home Depot, restocking happens while customers are shopping. Both companies tend to prioritize the early morning and late evening hours for restocking when customer traffic is sparse.
A few customers perceived that aisles were shut down for longer than necessary. Within that group, a number felt that only partial aisle shut-down was necessary, rather than full aisle shut-down.