We shopped at Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ace Hardware to see which was the best home-improvement store — here's the verdict

Business Insider/Jessica TylerHome Depot had a huge product selection.

  • Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware, three of the biggest home-improvement stores in the United States, offer a similar product selection and help with home-improvement projects.
  • Though the stores sell many of the same products,Home Depot‘s setup appears to be geared more toward professionals – like contractors and interior designers – than Lowe’s and Ace Hardware’s.
  • Home Depot reported on Tuesday that same-store sales were up 8% in its most recent fiscal quarter, Lowe’s reported in May that first-quarter comparable sales were up 0.6%, and Ace Hardware reported in May that first-quarter sales were up 2.2%.
  • We visited locations of both retailers and found that Home Depot had significantly more to offer and was nicer to shop at than its competitors.

Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware compete to be the go-to store for all things home improvement.

They stock everything you might need to fix up your home, including kitchen and bath fixtures, screws and bolts, paint, and tools. All three stores offer in-store pickup and do-it-yourself tips.

Home Depot has 2,284 stores in North America, Lowe’s has about 2,370, and Ace Hardware has 4,418 stores, most of which are independently owned and operated. However, Home Depot and Lowe’s stores are typically much larger than Ace Hardware stores.

When visiting outposts of all three retailers, we noticed that Home Depot felt like a massive warehouse, whereas Ace Hardware felt more like a local hardware store without the flashy showrooms and massive promotions that Home Depot had. Lowe’s fell somewhere in the middle of the two stores – it was comparable in size to Home Depot but didn’t feel as much like a warehouse.

All three home-improvement stores have performed well as of late. Home Depot reported on Tuesday that same-store sales were up 8% in its most recent fiscal quarter, Lowe’s reported in May that first-quarter comparable sales were up 0.6%, and Ace Hardware reported in May that first-quarter sales were up 2.2%.

The target market is another notable difference between the stores. Home Depot tends to appeal more to professionals – like contractors, interior designers, and plumbers – while Lowe’s and Ace Hardware welcome a more do-it-yourself crowd.

In addition, Home Depot appears to be the store of choice for millennials. In a Bank of America survey of 1,000 millennials, reported by US News, 64% said Home Depot was their top choice for home-improvement shopping.

Here’s what we found when we visited Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware stores in New York City:


I visited the Home Depot in the Flatiron District.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

It felt like I was stepping into a warehouse, with high ceilings and industrial lighting. On the left were small products like dish soap and cleaning supplies. To the right was the start of the flooring department.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Home Depot had an astounding selection of everything. There was a huge variety of styles and patterns available for each type of product.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The main level had aisles filled with appliances and fixtures.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There was also a huge lighting department on this level.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Upstairs were model kitchens and bathrooms, as well as consultation centres for customers who need assistance in designing their homes.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In the basement level was the gardening department, which had plants, seeds, flowers, tools, soil, and fertiliser.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There were cleaning supplies …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… craft supplies …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… and plenty of paint and paint chips.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Many things in the store were not labelled. There was a directory, and plenty of experts were around to help, but the store was clearly aimed more at home-improvement industry professionals. If you don’t know the exact nail or bolt you’re looking for, it could be challenging to find it on your own.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

That said, there were plenty of services for non-professionals, such as workshops where customers can learn how to do things like stain a patio.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Signs around the store explained that if shoppers find a product for less elsewhere, Home Depot will beat that price by 10%. In addition to price matching, this store offers same-day delivery anywhere in Manhattan, starting at $US21. Other Home Depot locations also do this, with prices varying based on the order size.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Home Depot’s return policy is generous, allowing a full refund for most items if you bring the receipt and store credit if you don’t. Home Depot also offers online returns and in-store pickup for online orders. The store felt geared toward professionals, but it seemed to have everything you would need for a home-improvement project, and all of the employees were extremely helpful.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Lowe’s was just around the corner from Home Depot.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The gardening department was at the front of the store, and it was significantly smaller than the one at Home Depot.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Lowe’s immediately seemed like it was geared towards people that aren’t necessarily professionals. There was much more assistance offered for DIY projects, and everything was well-labelled.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

In general, however, the store was underwhelming compared with Home Depot.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

There was less of everything offered, from lighting, to tools, to paint.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Like at Home Depot, there were model kitchens and bathrooms on the second level.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

It also had a comparable selection of lighting fixtures and flooring. The store felt less industrial than Home Depot, and its products were certainly labelled better.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Lowe’s had a design center, similar to the consultation services offered by Home Depot.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Home Depot’s and Lowe’s return policies were the same, and Lowe’s also offered a 10% price-match guarantee.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Lowe’s also offers workshops and in-store pickup for online orders. Most of the benefits at the two stores were very similar.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The Ace Hardware I went to was in the East Village.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The store was considerably smaller than Home Depot and Lowe’s, and it carried a lot of household items and convenience-store products like hand soap and toys. It was a pretty random selection towards the front of the store.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Ace Hardware had a comparable selection of tools to Home Depot and Lowe’s, and everything was clearly labelled in this part of the store. It felt more like a local shop than a chain.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The rest of what was on the first floor was pretty random. There were keys, lumber, cleaning supplies …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… and an assortment of other random products. While there was a ton to choose from, it was very cluttered, and it could be difficult to find a specific product.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Like at Lowe’s, many parts of the store were underwhelming. One aisle was completely empty.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Another aisle, which carried small products like screws, nuts, and bolts, had signs taped to the floor, advising customers to write down the quantity and prices of the items they were buying. They were very easy to miss.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The store carried about the same amount of paint as Home Depot and Lowe’s, but it was a mess. One of the shelves seemed like it was about to topple over, and paint cans were everywhere.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The rest of the main level had more general household products like Command hooks and coat racks. It also carried kitchen and bath fixtures. There was less of a selection than at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and most things cost under $US20.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

After making my way through the upper level of the store, I headed downstairs.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The lower level didn’t have much to offer. There was a sign stating that the store was being rearranged, which explained some of the mess …

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

… but it was still poorly labelled and hard to navigate.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Even though the store had a lot of products to offer at low prices, it was very cluttered and disorganized. Ace Hardware doesn’t have a set policy for price matching with competitors, and most of its stores are independently owned and operated.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Ace Hardware had a sign advertising assistance for local businesses. Its shipping and return policies are not advertised anywhere in stores, but it offers next-day delivery, in-store pickup, and returns with a receipt for up to 30 days.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Home Depot was the clear winner among the three stores. In addition to the lenient return and price-matching policies, it was more organised and had the best selection of products.

Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.