Creating a platform that provides users with an omnichannel experience to foster growth and economic expansion
UX Research Lead
I engineered and executed a research plan which included conducting semi-structured interviews, designing and analyzing surveys, creating wireframes of divergent designs, and ideating final design concept. I also led user testing of initial prototype and usability testing of final prototype along with heuristic evaluations with experts.
Since its formation in 2010, Square has come a long way by providing technological tools and interventions that have enabled business owners in handling and managing the financial aspect of their business in a manner that encourages economic empowerment and expansion. With the vision of continuing to contribute to economic expansion, Square now has the goal of developing an "omnichannel experience" for sellers - a way for smaller sellers to expand their customer scope and online presence without necessarily having to create an online store from scratch.
While Square's focus was on the sellers, the nature of this project led to two very distinct types of users - those who sell, and those who purchase. In order to avoid any confusion, we will refer to them as merchants and customers.
User Needs Research
To begin our primary research we conducted semi-structured interviews of numerous vendors including merchants that we recruited at a farmers market and others selected globally, followed by an in depth analysis and an affinity mapping session of our research findings. Additionally, our research involved a survey catered for the actual consumers of those products, in other words, the people that buy products from merchants via the different channels involving shopping in store, shopping online as well as on social media. From here we moved on to a competitive analysis of the current selling platforms.
The semi-structured interviews were mostly exploratory in nature. We wanted to get an overview of the experiences of merchants across different sectors of the market encounter. We conducted these interviews in order to identify recurring themes and pain points across different merchant types, learn about which platforms they are currently selling their products through, as well as how they manage their inventory and orders across multiple platforms.
Provides qualitative information on merchants’ experiences and opinions
Ability to have a set of questions to guide the interviews while also having the freedom to ask merchants about their specific experiences
Allows us to hone in on each merchant’s biggest pain points which ultimately narrowed down the scope of our project into something more defined
Focused our attention on small merchants who do not have a significant or successful online presence, as well as small merchants who are struggling to manage and expand their business.
Recruit merchants at a farmer’s market, specifically the Green Market at Piedmont Park, since a farmer's market offered us the perfect amalgamation of merchants, both big and small. We had a chance to talk to merchants that were in the initial stages of setting up their business, as well as merchants that already had a well established business with their own website and a customer base all over the country. We approached 10 merchants and spent between 5 and 15 minutes with each of them, learning about their products and their general experience at Green Market.
Scheduled phone interviews with 7 of the merchants. Additionally, we interviewed a local food catering business owner and a jewelry-maker from India.
Interviews ranged from 19 to 41 minutes. During the interviews, each one of us took extensive and detailed notes.
After conducting all 9 interviews, we met as a group and conducted an interpretation session. We input our affinity notes into Miro, and conducted the affinity mapping and walking-the-wall process on our computers, while sitting together as a team.
Observing the merchants at the farmers market
Conducting the interpretation session
Analysis & Findings
Affinity map with our design ideas
Through the affinity mapping session we were able to identify many user needs, pain points and recurring themes to help develop our design implications. Some of these are listed below:
Merchants do not have an efficient way to manage inventory
Social Media platforms allow for easy advertising but not a good channel for financial transactions
Order tracking is difficult especially when payment invoices have to be sent through third party applications
Managing orders coming from different platforms is hard
Design a platform to allow social communication between sellers and buyers
Integrate payment with platform used for marketing
One unified inventory management page with details available at the prompting of the user
Design needs to be easily implementable with existing customer base
After conducting semi-structured interviews, we narrowed our scope down to online sales. The affinity mapping helped us identify a common theme: the huge disconnect between the channels in which each merchant is present and the channels that customers can actually place an order and make financial transactions. Through the semi-structured interviews we learned about the experience of the merchants with marketing and selling their products. To understand the other end of this spectrum, we decided to conduct research to learn more about the buying experience of customers. We wanted to get an insight into the current shopping habits of customers, their comfort level with shopping online and even their preference of shopping platforms.
Provides quantitative data as it pertains to customers’ shopping experience
Allows us to start analyzing behavior and recognizing patterns
Quick to distribute online and collect responses with no incurred costs
Allows us to reach many different demographics and large pool of participants
Narrowing down our scope helped with formulating the survey by providing clear information goals.
We spent many hours discussing exactly which questions we wanted answered, the rationale behind each one, as well as how to best phrase the questions to avoid ambiguity. The questions we put in the survey were catered towards collecting data regarding purchasing patterns as they related to online shopping and social media.
The survey was narrowed down to 16 quick and easy to answer questions to enable maximum and complete participation
While making the survey we also paid close attention to the design for maximum retention. This included things like clearly stating the purpose and time required at the beginning, including a progress bar, our contact details, and specifying that the responses would be anonymous.
Analysis & Findings
We received 62 responses to our survey in five days. From here we analyzed the responses in depth to understand customer behavior. The responses gave us valuable data including insights on how purchase decisions are made, what platforms are used and what features customers are looking for when shopping. We also came across many common pain points such as inaccessibility to sufficient product details and gap between communication and payment channels.
In order to develop a better understanding of our users, their online business practices and their business environment, we decided to conduct an analysis of the systems that are currently used by merchants. Our goal was to first hand experience the process and system flow on the different platforms and familiarize ourselves with the current features and services offered.
Initiates understanding of features that help optimize the business and improve efficiency
Semi-Structured interviews helped us identify what platforms are used by merchants, and a competitive analysis of platforms would clarify the business process model from their point of view
Helps identify why certain platforms are preferred over others
Based on the data from our research, we decided to analyze the three most commonly used existing platforms for sales – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp Business.
For Facebook, we set up our own shop to understand the onboarding process of our merchants as well as the features available to them. To broaden our understanding, we also explored online shops of other existing merchants on Facebook.
For Instagram, we explored brands that currently have shoppable products available on their pages, since we could not set up our own store on Instagram without a permit from the company.
Finally, for WhatsApp Business, we carried out the analysis by installing the app from Google PlayStore and setting up a business profile.
Analysis & Findings
Facebook allows vendors to set-up their own shop by creating a “page” on the platform. From there users can pick a theme template to suit their needs, each providing different set of features based on the type of business. Additionally, it provides merchants with useful tools to help optimize their business such as advertisements and an insights page to track performance.
Instagram provides “business accounts” that comes with similar features, such as ability to promote posts via advertisements, insights, and tracking activity on individual posts. A lot of businesses are verified by Instagram which then allows them to post shoppable products, shown with a shopping bag icon, that can be linked to products on their official website.
WhatsApp is predominantly a messaging app used globally. WhatsApp Business was built with the small business owner in mind which allows users to register their business mobile number to start using it. Merchants can create a business profile by setting up their address, business description, email address, and their business website. It also allows merchants to see statistical data regarding number of messages or orders.
Shoppable post on instagram
Setting up a Business Profile on WhatsApp Business
Personas & Empathy Map
Redefined Project Objectives
Square, Inc. wanted us to develop an omnichannel experience for the merchants that would help them grow. While this was our focus, based on our research we redefined the project objectives for both sets of users -
the merchants as well as the customers.
Designing a streamlined application that consolidates inventory management, communication channels, and financial transactions in order to help small business owners expand
Eliminating the need to jump between various platforms to view product details, communicate with merchants, and make payments by unifying the experience on an existing platform
Our design process started with divergent ideation on 3 different concepts for the customer experience: the Square iMessage app, Square Interactive Messaging, and Square Keyboard. We presented these concepts to Square for feedback, which helped us develop a pro/con analysis based on the strengths and weaknesses of each design before conceptualizing the final customer experience. Additionally, based on our research and design implications, we brainstormed and ideated to develop wireframes for the merchant experience.
Concept 1: Square iMessage App
Concept 2: Square Interactive Messaging
Concept 3: Square Keyboard
Our design solution involves incorporating interventions on both the merchant side and the customer side. While the merchant side of the design is an innovative platform that requires merchants to download a new Square app, the customer side is easily implementable into platforms already used by the customer in order to require minimum changes to their existing practices and behavior. Both the prototypes were developed in Figma, and both sets went through multiple iterations based on the feedback that we received.
Visual representation of how our solution changes interaction
We designed an app entirely from scratch that allows merchants to post their products on multiple social media channels with ease, keep track of their inventory, and manage their orders and customers in real-time. In addition to this, our design solution allows merchants to keep track of their overall business goals.
After iterating on our divergent designs based on feedback from Square, we came up with a solution that introduces a new method of interaction between the customers and merchants without changing the existing social media channel that customers use. Our design consists of an interactive messaging experience in which customers can communicate with a chatbot (or the merchants themselves), browse the available items, place an order, and make payments.
The solution can be implemented across any channel that supports a messaging platform, such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram (Direct Messaging). It could also be implemented on channels that only support messaging such as WhatsApp. For the purpose of this project, we chose to develop the experience on Instagram.
For our evaluations we decided to use a combination of three different methods. We conducted a think aloud user test of the customer experience with 5 users. Additionally, we recruited 7 participants for a usability test followed by a SUS questionnaire for the merchant experience. Lastly, 3 experts from Square provided in depth heuristic evaluations for the same. The feedback and results were taken into account to further iterate on our design before presenting our final solution to Square at their Atlanta office. This presentation was attended by over 50 people compromising of members of the Square design, catalog and development teams and other attendees and stakeholders present there and those that joined via video call.
Analysis and Findings
The following three methods were used:
1. Think Around User Testing
2. Usability Test + System Usability Score Questionnaire
3. Heuristic Evaluation from Experts
Feedback and data obtained from these tests provided invaluable insight into our design solutions by highlighting the strengths and shortcomings of our solution, which were then used to iterate on our initial prototype. Many changes were made, some of which are highlighted below:
Average SUS Score
Allow merchants to select products from their inventory from the other app by jumping between the apps
Allow merchants to connect to their inventory from a possible existing Square dashboard
Eliminate the need to select channel at the beginning of the flow. Instead replace it with an infographic screen that depicts the purpose of the app
Looking at the post should tell customers if an item is available to shop, sold out or if it is a regular Instagram post added
Customers know if a product is customizable before-hand
Make the method to message the merchant more prominent and intuitive by adding a blue message banner at the bottom of the image
Customers should be able to notice if an item is available to shop, sold out or if it is a regular Instagram post
There should be a distinction between “Add to cart” and “Proceed to Checkout”
Moderated user testing in progress with recruited participants
Overall, this project immensely helped me develop my evidence based research and user centered design process skills. My team and I surpassed the expectations of our industry client, Square, Inc. by delivering a solution to provide an omnichannel experience encompassing both merchants and customers. Our design was informed by thorough and extensive research, and thus addressed major user needs, pain points and requirements from Square. The evaluation and feedback was used to iterate on our high fidelity prototypes, which in turn helped developers at Square envision the implementation of such an application for the merchants. On the other hand, the customer experience, while still hard to put into practice, provides a great solution and innovative way for e-commerce and therefore might be seen on platforms in the near future.