e-Commerce Off The Grid: 5 Tips for User Researchers


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In this short presentation from User Research Friday 2011, Kathi Kaiser describes five lessons for studying the buy online & pick up in store process.

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  • Hi, I’m Kathi Kaiser. I work at Centralis, a UX research and design firm based in Chicago. I’m going to talk (very quickly) about how to study the e-commerce process when it leaves the screen and ventures out into the real world.
  • Like many of you, the research I do tends to fall into one of two categories. Either I’m out in the field, watching how people do things so that we can make products and services to meet their needs, or I’m in the lab, evaluating the usability of a website, app or software product that already exists, to determine how to make it better.But more and more, the distinction between the product and the real worldis a false one. UX is pervasive – experiences may start in the real world and end up online, or vice versa - often passing through a mobile device or two in between.
  • A great example of this is the buy online & pickup in store process – this is where you shop on a retailer’s website, but then go to the store to pick up your item. Many major retailers are doing this today – everyone from Nordstrom to Walmart - and it’s becoming more and more common. Merchants have different ways of dealing with this process – there’s no one way or standard convention. Despite this variability, designing and evaluating the experience requires that we consider both the online and the offline components.
  • Recently, the Centralis team was asked to evaluate the total user experience of the buy online & pick up in store process for a major retailer (not one of those we mentioned, but you’ve probably heard of them). Our ultimate goal was to make the entire process easier, from start to finish. But our first step was to figure out how to study it – it’s not a field study or a lab study, it’s both, with other twists too. I’d like to share five lessons we picked up along the way for studying this process.
  • Lesson #1: Do a pilot session. Just like when running a usability test on a digital interface, you should do a dry run of the process yourself so you can effectively plan and know what to expect. In this case, we expected the process to have two main components: people buy from a website, and pick up from the Customer Service Desk at the store. To test our assumptions, one of our team members bought something for in-store pick-up, to see what happens.
  • Turns out, the process had many more parts than we expected. Sure, it started on the website. Notifications then came via email and text. On the way to pick up the item, it became clear that outdoor and indoor signage would play an important role. In this case, there was also a kiosk interface involved – this was how the staff knew to pull your order. And then finally, the last step was to receive the item from a sales associate. That’s a much more complex process to observe than we first thought - good thing we did a pilot!
  • Lesson #2: Sweeten the deal. To understand the full user experience, it was important that we watch the same people complete the whole process, beginning to end. How do you get someone to sign on for a study that involves multiple days and locations? Pay them well! We offered people $100 to come to the lab for the website usability test. During the test, we gave them $50 to make a purchase – they could pick out what they wanted and keep it. This was important; it had to be something they really wanted so we could be sure they would come pick it up. The next day, we paid them another $150 to meet us at the store and pick up their item. Not a bad deal for the participant!
  • To increase the likelihood that individual people would complete the full process, we scheduled the lab and the store sessions for back to back days. We also scheduled people for the same time blocks: for example, someone would meet us at the lab on Tuesday at 10:15am, and then at the store on Wednesday at 10:15am. We didn’t want anyone to be confused about where and when they were supposed to arrive. We had the luxury of using a professional recruiter, and it did cost a bit more than less complex recruits – it’s more difficult to find qualified people who could participate on back to back days. The incentives also get a bit pricey, so it’s important to recognize that this approach may be more expensive.
  • Lesson #3: Establish a base camp. Choose a neutral meeting place to serve as your headquarters on pick up day. Mall food courts are good options, as are nearby coffee shops. Choose a spot that’s outside of the store you’re studying because you want to see what participants do from the moment they walk in. A neutral location with space to sit also provides an opportunity to have a brief conversation with the participant about any notifications they have received and how they expect the pick up process will work.We recommend doing this leg of the research with a three person team. One person facilitates the session – usually the same person who met with that participant in the lab the day before. A second person captures everything that’s happening on video. The third person is critical – he or she stays behind at the table during the session. This person greets participants that may arrive early, and watches the stuff. Camera bag, notebooks, purses – whatever. It’s a public place, so nothing can really be left behind when you start the session. It’s much more convenient have someone to watch everything at the table than to carry it around during the session.
  • Lesson #4: Add Mystery Shopping. It’s likely that the in-store pick-up process varies from store to store, even for the same retailer. Ideally, you could evaluate this process with participants across multiple stores, but that becomes challenging from a logistical perspective. To explore variability with limited time and resources, we chose to focus on a single store for sessions with participants, augmented by expert evaluations in other stores using a “mystery shopping” technique. At the main store, management and employees knew what we were doing – we had permission to videotape and we saw many of the same employees multiple times. At the additional stores, we went alone and did not inform store management of our presence (corporate headquarters knew). We were able to see how the process varies across stores, and we also were able to see how the employees acted when they didn’t know they’re being studied, which we suspected might also make a difference in the process.
  • Along the way we discovered some neat spy tools for UX researchers. The mystery shops were done solo and we wanted to be subtle, so videotaping wasn’t feasible. Instead, we did some sneaky think-aloud using our smartphones. Voice memo apps are available for most smartphones, and of course all phones now have cameras. To capture concurrent think aloud, we simply described our experience while pretending to be on the phone, snapping the occasional picture along the way. After picking up the item, we had an audio file with a stream-of-consciousness of our experience, plus illustrations. Alternatively, you could use a retrospective think aloud by completing the process in real time and then recording a voice memo “debrief” of yourself. Either way, you end up with a rich account of the process that can be easily shared and analyzed.
  • Lesson #5: Analyze the forest and the trees. To identify and diagnose usability issues, it’s important to look closely at each component of the process – the website, mobile alerts, signage, people - anything that users interact with. However, it’s also important to provide your audience with a sense of the overall user experience. Users may struggle with one piece of the process but report a positive experience in the end, or they may breeze through most of it but feel negatively because one part went wrong. Understanding the whole user experience requires an analysis of the sum as well as the parts.We found video to be the most effective means of communicating the full user experience. In addition to the video from the actual participant sessions, we did a re-enactment of the initial pilot session, staring Elizabeth, our UX Director. While the participant videos were a montage of observations; the re-enactment was more like a documentary - Elizabeth spoke to the camera, describing her experience and highlighting where she encountered problems.
  • In summary, here are 5 lessons for studying the buy online & pick up in store process.
  • Thanks!
  • e-Commerce Off The Grid: 5 Tips for User Researchers

    1. 1. e-Commerce Off The Grid:Studying the In-Store Pickup ProcessKathi Kaiser, Centralis @kathikaiser
    2. 2. Research at CentralisField Work:What should we make?Usability Testing:How do we make it better?
    3. 3. Buy Online & Pick Up In StoreShop (and buy) online Pick a nearby store Go get your item
    4. 4. The ProjectEvaluate the total user experiencefor the “Buy Online & Pick Up InStore” process for a major retailer.Make it easier!
    5. 5. Lesson #1: Do a pilot.What we thought was involved:Website Customer Service Desk
    6. 6. Lesson #1: Do a pilot.What was actually involved:WebsiteOutdoorsignageKiosksIndoor signageAssociatesEmailSMS
    7. 7. Lesson #2: Sweeten the deal.We paid participants:$100to show up at the lab$50to buy something thatthey choose and keep$150to meet us at the storeand pick up the item+ +
    8. 8. Lesson #2: Sweeten the deal.More pro tips for recruiting:• Back to back days• Same person, same time• Budget accordingly
    9. 9. Lesson #3: Establish a base camp.• Neutral location— Food court— Coffee shop• 3 person team— Facilitator— Video— Greeter/Stuff Babysitter
    10. 10. Lesson #4: Add mystery shopping.• Work with store mgmt at main site• Add stealth evaluations of other sites— Explore process variability— Avoid “best behavior”
    11. 11. Lesson #4: Add mystery shopping.UX Spy Gadgets:• Document the setting discretely• Use concurrent or retrospective think aloud
    12. 12. Lesson #5: Analyze Forest + Trees• Diagnose usability issues with each individual interaction— Website, mobile, signage, kiosk, employees• And communicate the complete user experience— We video
    13. 13. Buy Online & Pick Up In Store1. Do a pilot.Walk through the entire process yourself to prepare.2. Sweeten the deal.Use structured incentives, and let people buy stuff they want!3. Establish a base camp.Meet users in a nearby neutral location. Use a team of three.4. Add mystery shoppingExplore variability using expert reviews. Be a UX spy :)5. Analyze forest + treesExamine the details of each interaction, and tell the overall story.
    14. 14. Thanks!Kathi Kaiser@kathikaiser@Centralis_UX