Lowe's vs. Home Depot: Weighing the Differences

Home Improvement Store
Home Improvement Stores Carry Enough Lumber for Most Homeowners' Needs. Juanmonino / Getty Images

Should you choose Home Depot or Lowe's Home Improvement? The differences between these two nationwide franchised home improvement chains are sometimes difficult to discern since they fiercely compete with each other over pricing and high-profit merchandise like tools.

If you do any kind of home remodeling, whether something as simple as painting your kitchen, or on up to full-scale remodeling, 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 lumber yard, you eventually have to come to these stores for something. Both have a critical mass that is hard to ignore if you want to get any DIY remodeling done at a reasonable cost.

Bottom Line

To gain a wide sampling, research focused on Yelp 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. In addition, 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

Lumberyard 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.

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 were 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.

Store Atmosphere

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. Reviewers tended to give Home Depot stores slightly higher reviews for store atmosphere. Terms like "grimy" and "disorganized" were used to describe 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.

Accepting Returns

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. 

Lower Prices

Both retailers engage in a battle of prices on a daily basis. When all prices are averaged out, Home Depot and Lowe's proved to have essentially the same prices.

Lowe's and Home Depot stores engage in competitive pricing, so it is common to find similar popular items priced within pennies of each other. Less popular items (plumbing, electrical, HVAC) tend to have the greatest price disparity.

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. It also carries Utilitech lighting. Lowe's is also the store that carries Pella new-construction windows (vs. Andersen windows at Lowe's).

Both stores tend to be focused on steering customers to store and exclusive 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

A number of 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 such as lumber.

Both Home Depot and Lowe's will deliver heavy items from local stores such as 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, such as FedEx, USPS, or UPS.

Aisle Shut-Down Procedures

After products move off of shelves, shelves need to be restocked. At both stores, 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 was necessary. Within that group, a number felt that only partial aisle shut-down was necessary, rather than full aisle shut-down.