Lowe’s is testing interactive virtual models of two stores

Retailer of home goods

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Cos. said it has created immersive interactive 3D models of its two US stores to achieve better visibility into inventory data and store layouts.

The models, also known as digital twins, are essentially fully virtual versions of physical stores that are updated in real-time with information from sensors and point-of-sale devices such as cash registers. The company is currently piloting digital twins in Mill Creek, Washington and downtown Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Nvidia Omniverse, a real-time graphics collaboration platform, to create and iterate on these digital twins. Nvidia of Santa Clara, California known for its GPUs—graphics chips originally designed to deliver cutting-edge performance in video games that have since helped power everything from artificial intelligence computing in data centers to cryptocurrency mining. The digital twin is another application of the graphics power of these processors.

According to analysts, the concept of a digital double has been around for some time and involves the creation of virtual three-dimensional versions of various kinds of real objects and places. So far, these digital doppelgangers have mostly been used in manufacturing and factory scenarios, they said.

Seemantini Godbole, chief digital and information officer at Lowe’s, says their goal includes helping store planners optimize layouts and better perform inventory and sales analytics. In addition, staff on the ground can access a digital doppelganger by wearing augmented reality headsets. They can then see detailed information about the inventory in front of them, including partially hidden items in hard-to-reach places.

“I think we’re trying to give superpowers to our partners,” Ms. Godball said, adding that partners who are tasked with restocking or reorganizing inventory can check their work by superimposing a hologram of a digital doppelganger over the real version to make sure that they put the right inventory in the right place.

Ms Godball says the project is in its early stages but is showing promising results. Until now, digital twins have been used to better understand when two specific products are often bought together so they can then be placed closer together.

Until now, most of the use cases for digital twins have focused on factories and the manufacturing sector, said Tom Mainelli, an analyst at research firm International Data Corp. Creating digital twins of the machines could help train workers to use the machines and provide internal visibility of any problems with them without having to take them apart, he said.

One of the challenges, he said, was the difficulty of creating digital duplicates, especially of older machines where information about its components does not yet exist in digital formats.

Ms. Godball said Lowe’s has already made some preparations for this, creating three-dimensional virtual representations of its products to display on its website for customers shopping online. In addition, it already had some sensors installed.

Lowe’s says it doesn’t have a firm timeline for when it might expand its digital twin technology beyond Mill Creek and Charlotte. Ms. Godbole says it’s unlikely the company will roll it out to all of its stores in the near future. She said this could be done for multiple stores, potentially prioritizing those that frequently update their layouts to focus shoppers on seasonal products.

Write Isabel Bousquet at Isabelle.Bousquette@wsj.com

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