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I've long held the view that Home Depot and Lowe's use IT and their pricing power to strategic advantage over smaller, locally owned businesses. But recent experiences at both home-improvement chains show how far these two companies have to go in the effective use of CRM and business intelligence. --Tom Smith

Good post, and I hope it leads to some improvement at the big retailers. They could be doing so much more with technology to help people sort through the often-confusing array of home products. Part of their problem--not an excuse--could be the many differences there are among their stores. Unlike some forms of retail, there seems to be a lot of different items and emphasis from region to region. Maybe that makes it harder for IT? Just a thought. --Brian Edwards

At the Home Depot where I shop, there are never any cashiers--it's entirely self-checkout. This works fine, until you buy something that doesn't have a SKU or any other product that doesn't scan. There's no cashier to call for a price check. After you've tried repeated swipes of the bar code and then manual entry of the SKU, the computer will cancel the sale, leaving the frustrated buyer to go find a salesperson. And there's never one to be found. The three or four salespeople behind the service desk generally are on break. I know that I'm not the first to just leave all my would-be purchases in a pile and walk out. --Abbey

Home Depot can't even get ERP right, let alone CRM and business intelligence. I've been remodeling my home for the past two years. On several occasions, the local store has been out of standard stock items that I came to purchase. To add to my frustration, it places tags on the shelf listing restock days a week or two out. In an era when ERP is considered back office, this seems unthinkable. In each case, I expressed my dissatisfaction by leaving and buying somewhere else. Oh, yeah ... it wouldn't know that because it doesn't do BI. --Ralph Osburn

I have to believe this is a function of the store. I had the opposite experience at Lowe's during a recent visit. I returned an item without a receipt (usually a major hassle at any retailer). The salesperson was able to look up my purchase simply by scanning my credit card and then processed the return. I went to the window-treatment aisle to order blinds for a room in my house. The associate used the Lowe's system to customize the blinds to my specifications and placed the order. I walked up front, gave the cashier my phone number, they pulled up the order and processed the sale.

I find it hard to believe that Lowe's only has solid systems in one store. I think the problem must be training, not the system. --Jeff Torbin

Traders seem to believe that a combined Microsoft-Yahoo would produce an entity capable of seriously challenging Google in the otherwise unassailable areas of search and online advertising. The Street has it wrong. Just like Yahoo benefited from the union, uh, screw-up, that was AOL-Time Warner, Google would be the clear winner if Microsoft buys Yahoo for $50 billion. --Paul McDougall

I would argue that anyone who believes that Google apps are on the verge of displacing Microsoft Office products is overestimating the quality of the product Google has developed. Google apps have a long way to go before consumers are swayed to ditch Excel and the other Office apps that are so essential to 21st century business.

Furthermore, the assumption that a Microsoft-Yahoo merger would suck up Microsoft resources is in itself dubious. With the additional revenue that increased market share would bring, Microsoft would have no problem hiring the extra manpower needed to continue its software ventures. And who's to say that an acquisition would necessitate a merger of the Yahoo and Microsoft ad-serving platforms? I see no reason why Microsoft shouldn't simply allow Yahoo to remain relatively autonomous and continue business as usual. It's smart enough to realize that Yahoo has a loyal user and client base. Why jeopardize its profitability by syncing platforms? --ND

This is not about technology. This is about organization strategy and behavior toward customers. Microsoft likes to take giant steps and misses the targets. Google takes small steps, keeps the expectations low, and hits the target. Google will keep doing this and keep winning. Microsoft was about monopoly, and it's about to end. --Fred

A merger between Microsoft and Yahoo would only make Yahoo fans switch to other options, including Google. The Internet is all about free stuff and user friendliness. Microsoft has neither. There's nothing like paying 50 bucks for Xbox Live and getting stuck with a crashed Xbox in the middle of a game. And what about getting forced to buy new computers with Windows Vista? The best long-term strategy for Microsoft is to kick out all the incompetent software developers and managers who release crappy software.

Microsoft really needs some love! And to get that, it needs to be committed to making good software, not the evil software that spies on users and restricts digital media with DRM. --Spreading Evil

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