Refer&Earn: Increasing user base

Buket Yildiz
Mar 1 · 5 min read
Increasing bar chart with girl pointing at refer and earn on mobile phone
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Increasing the user base is a major goal for mobile applications. For Lock&Stock (hereafter L&S), I have worked on several user research studies to investigate the potential of attracting new users and of course to keep the existing users happy by providing a seamless user experience.

L&S is a mobile application that helps students to stay away from their phones and accumulate keys, which can be used to unlock discounts. A win-win situation for students, enabling them to focus on their studies and get rewarded for it. Next to that, it also provides students the opportunity to get scholarships when applying to universities through the app.

In this case study, I will describe one of the usability studies I worked on, to better understand the pain points of users and potential usability issues with the new referral process, which entitles the referrers to earn a commission when the referred user enrols to a university through the app.

My role

I was one of the user researchers at L&S when this project took place. Together with my colleague we interchangeably lead the interviews, and the end-to-end process, such as writing the research plan and discussion guide, recruitment, analysis&synthesis, and writing the usability report.

We also worked alongside our CTO and our product designers. They were present in some of the research sessions and closely monitored the synthesis part.


Overall, it was a short project taking only 2 weeks. The tight timeline was something that I got accustomed to working at a startup. Everything had to move fast. For this project, the timeline looked as follows:

  • Discussing the project: 1 day

Research Statement and goals

We wanted to understand how users think about referring products to their friends and how they interact with L&S app to improve the app’s user experience.

Goals of usability study:

  1. Assess the user experience of the referral section (prototype)


The study comprised of three parts and the whole session took place remotely via Google Meet:

  1. An in-depth one-on-one interview process at the beginning in which the wants and needs, and the perceptions of the users regarding referral systems was discussed. This was done to get ideas for next releases of the app.

Recruitment criteria and process

The main target demographic for this study were users of the L&S app who preferably hadn’t used the referrals page before. We also included non-users to the study to get an unbiased point of view and fresh perspectives on the redesigned option. A screener survey was part of the recruitment.

We recruited participants by posting an ad in the app. As an incentive the participants were provided 200keys (in-app) for taking part in the research study.

Usability Study

A screenshot of a usability session
A screenshot of a usability session

We had 5 journeys in total that we wanted the users to walk us through and timed the tasks, so users had to move in a certain order. We did this to assess how easy it is for the users to finish a task. Since we were dealing with a clickable prototype, before prompting the users we had to make sure that they would not start exploring the prototype themselves.

Outputs and deliverables

After each session, I reflected on the session with the key takeaways, pain points and interesting findings. When we finished all the sessions we started writing the usability report, and upon completion presented it to the team. It was highly appreciated, and the team was inspired to use the insights for further iterations.


This piece of research helped the company understand how the users are thinking and interacting with the referral system. One of the key findings was for example that the users did not understand how commissions work. This is an interesting finding not only for the design team, but also the marketing team. It shows that the way they are reaching out to the users regarding the referrals needs a different approach.

Next steps & recommendations

In general the users were satisfied and they easily navigated through the prototype. It was a short usability study with some interesting findings, among others:

  • It was unclear to users how they would be compensated.

As soon as we presented the results, the team immediately started working on adding information in the ‘learn more’ section clarifying how the commission works. The second finding presented here is still under development by the time of writing.


What went well:

  • Adjustments in the content and design were made based on this research


  • Recruitment was difficult, as we started recruiting last-minute. I suggested creating a research pool after this research, and we started working on that.

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