Mainly Local — A case study

This Case Study intends to explore how the research, planning, discovered persona and user testability impacted the design decisions for this second project at the User Experience Designer Program at Red Academy.

The opportunity

While the popularity of shopping local is steadily growing, local shops are predicted to lose $1.6 billion in retail sales to other online retailers and American-owned companies. Reports released by Vanity found the independent retailers in Canada (both large and small) have a poor online presence, making Canada a prime target for foreign e-retailers. The way consumers shop is changing. Along with increased purchases being made online, dollars are increasingly “digitally influenced” through product research and deal comparisons online. There is a growing concern that Canadians will lose interest in shopping local as people are being drawn online more and more.

UXD Project

Shop Main St would like to bring the local and “Main St” shopping experience online to enable customers to shop from home. Since Canadian online shoppers spending is expected to increase by 50% between 2014–2019, Main St is planning on preparing digitally for this significant change in customer behaviour.

They would like to: (1)build a web-based tool that anyone can access in order to (2)build an increased interest in shopping local, (3)supplement the sales of Main St shops, and (4)increase community engagement.

My part in this project was to design the Home Decor section of the website. This Case Study intends to explore how the research, planning, discovered persona and user testability impacted the design decisions for this second project at the User Experience Designer Program at Red Academy.

Research

The research phase comprised of three main parts:

Domain Research — Organizational Research — User Research

Domain Research

The start point of this project was to understand the direction the industry is moving to, in terms of online sales and to learn the main market shareholders.

IBISWorld (4229CA Home Furnishings Stores in Canada Industry Report, 2017)

According to a research conducted by IBISWorld (4229CA Home Furnishings Stores in Canada Industry Report, 2017), “operators have come under strong competitive pressure from large discount and online retailers”.

The graphic on the left shows that the 3 largest stores — HomeSense, Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Outfitters — market shares together account for almost half of the industry.

The industry has demonstrated a moderate growth over the last five years to 2017, despite the fragility the economy and the consumers fear of a house bubble. In addition to the uncertainty of the housing market, Home Decor and Furnishing operator have experienced a high presure from large discount and online retailers, such as Amazon.

Organizational Research

Now, it was time to learn more about the stores I would design the website for. For this Organizational Research, I decided to research stores based on a the geographic area on Main Street between E 16th Ave and E 33rd Ave, which corresponds to the the highest concentration of Home Decor and Furnishings stores.

For this research, I utilized information founded in the stores’ websites, customer reviews published on Google and on Facebook, as well as in person interviews with store owners, managers or staff members.

Google Maps showing the cluster of Home Decor and Furnishing Stores on Main St.

Important Findings

Home Decor and Furnishings products found in Main Street stores range from contemporary to antique, new and reclaimed products, locally made and imported items.

However, I was able to identify in common characteristics that unite the products:

  • the uniqueness of items, the vast majority being one-of-a-kind
  • the ‘artisanal’ aspect of the items, the majority are handmade
  • the use of natural materials in most of them
  • the majority of the stores sell products designed and/or produced by local artisans
Keeping in mind:
Unique .:. Artisanal .:. Natural .:. Local

Nineteen Ten Store, Main St, Vancouver — Eveline Pinto, 2017 (own private collection)

The first one of my interviews was with a store owner that demonstrated extreme disbelief in the e-commerce website for Main Street Home Decor and furnishing products.

In his opinion “nobody would trust to buy a large sofa, for example, pay for shipping and realized it was not as expected. People like to feel the product before taking it home.”

“Would this whole project be a waste of time?”
— I thought to myself.

In another store, the manager informed that 50% of their proceedings come from their e-commerce website.

The 2 contradictory information prompted the need to investigate “how likely would someone purchase home decor and furnishing products from an online website.”

User Research

After understanding the industry and the

  • In-person interviews were conducted in Main St. and outside of Main St.

Screener questions were designed to filter the target people we would like to interview and also to serve as an engagement tool:

  • Do you live in Vancouver area?
  • Do you shop online?
  • Do you shop for home decor products?

The 1st round of interviews on Main Street revealed interesting information about people who shop there. Most of shoppers live close to the area and 100% stated that would prefer to shop for home decor products in-store versus online. All of the people interviewed inside home decor stores reported to be only browsing and not looking for a product specifically.

The majority says that like to shop online, but, for home decor products, they like to “touch and feel the product”, they “like to feel the material and evaluate the craftsmanship”. When asked what they look for when buying a home decor product, the answers were: “unique, well made, good quality, price not determinant, handmade, locally made.”

A Survey was created to clarify a few points of the in-person interviews and to gain other ideas of the kind of person that would be willing to purchase from the Main St. e-commerce website.

See full online survey results at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3K9jZ23BTw5UGl0c0dHV01ubGs

Although the survey indicated that customers are open to buy Home Decor and Furnishing products online, it also revealed that there is a preference to shop in-store. When asked why they prefer to buy in brick-and-mortar stores, they answered:

  • Feel and touch
“So I can see feel the product” “So I can look at the product” “I like to see the products on site”
  • The showroom experience
“Like the showrooms’ environment.” “I like to see and conversation about the product.”
  • Trust
“More reliable.” “I like close the deal in a brick and mortar store where I can check quality of materials and craftsmanship.” “Because I fell more comfortable if I can see and touch.”
  • Dimensions, Appearance and Craftsmanship
“I like to see decor live before purchasing. To make sure I’m getting the size and colour I want.”“It’s better to see the exact size and material.”
To keep in mind:
Feel and Touch .:. The Showroom Experience .:. Trust .:. Dimensions, Appearance and Craftsmanship

User Persona

All findings of the research generated a User Persona, with a set of goals, motivations, frustrations and other characteristics that the design must take into account.

Lucy Haggens is our User Persona. She works long hours as a marketing manager during the week and even in some weekends, producing events. Lucy likes to spend most of her free time at home and, for her, it’s important to create a comfortable environment that reflects her personality.

Planning

With all information gathered during the research phase, now it was time to translate the findings into a designed that:

  • communicated the uniqueness of Main Street stores
  • assured to the user the quality of products
  • recreated the Showroom experience
  • created trust to purchase items online

The first step was to create a Scenario where the Primary User Flow could be tested.

Scenario

The Scenario here is illustrated with a Storyboard depicting our User persona, Lucy, in a situation where she needs to purchase an item.

Storyboard

Primary User Flow

The goal in creating a user flow is to make sure that the design provides all features and pages to enable the task to be successfully completed:

Lucy's Task: to purchase a comfortable handmade decorative chair  to her living room.
Primary User Flow

Comparative Competitive Analysis

In order to decide on the design that could fulfill the user needs, I researched a few e-commerce websites.

The choice of organizations to research was based on the ones mentioned as the biggest market share, the ones mentioned in the surveys and big online retailers: Costco.ca, Amazon.ca, PotteryBarn.com, Sears.ca, Ikea.ca and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Design and Testing Phase

Dividing Product into Categories

Home Decor and Furnishings can be divided into many different categories and to make the design as intuitive as possible, I mapped the most common categories in the organizations mentioned above. The result was translated into the list appearing on the lefthand side below:

Building Trust

For the trust element, I realized that these organizations allow customers to post reviews about their products.

Challenge: most products are one-of-a-kind and once sold, would not be available anymore to be purchased, making reviews useless.

Solution: allow customers to review the stores on Main St, rating the satisfaction with purchases from the supplier, instead of their products.

Along with the possibility to read reviews from other customers, the ‘trust’ element was also considered when creating tracking order page and the link to read the return policy right on the first page.

Communicating Unique Values

Observing PotteryBarn.com, a store with similar products, and other online retailers that sell imported and large scaly produced items, I noticed that the use of large images was more common with the first.

I decided to include a hero image in the main page of Home Decor ad Furnishings, but it had to contain elements that communicated “natural, locally made, artisanal”. So the idea is to pair, image and meaningful words to convey this message that are important to our users to know.

Recreating the Showroom Experience

This was the biggest challenge: to mimic the experience of seeing a product staged and get inspired.

The tests with the prototype so far, were quite successful. Testers could complete the task explained in the user flow without any major issues.

But I still couldn’t see an element that could replicate the satisfaction of browsing a showroom.

So I got inspired by the Ikea.ca website and created a similar idea of displaying an image with multiple products that can be clicked on to be purchased. The blue outline appears when the item is hovered over to demonstrate it’s clickable.

Providing Enough Product Information

Mitigating the possibility of making a customer disappointed was another crucial point in this design. Looking at different e-commerce websites, it’s possible to understand why descriptions are very detailed and they have to be. So guidelines of product description need to be stablished and followed when creating a product profile to clearly assure customers they are getting what they expect.

Checkout Process

For the checkout, I designed the process keeping in mind that it was important to:

  • inform the progress (using a progress bar)
  • give feedback (when information is entered incorrectly)
  • provide easy to see guideline (informing how passwords should be created)
  • reduce steps for returning customers (with the possibility to save address and credit card information on file)

The tests showed that the process was easy to be complete. One modification needed to be made as testers pointed out the delivery time (currently displayed when choosing the delivery method) should’ve been displayed before they decided to proceed with the purchase, as that’s an important decision factor.

This was corrected in the mid-fidelity prototype that can be seen in the link below.

https://invis.io/CPBHSN4GM

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