I cannot overstate the tremendous amount of effort that the parties involved have shown throughout the development of this project. I would like to thank both Gerrymi Bernardo and Rael Bernardino, who have been instrumental in handling the front-end as well as back-end development efforts of this project.
The year 2020 has posed as an obstacle in the lives of many individuals, not the least of which are small businesses. The pandemic resulted in mass closures of everything from fitness centers to restaurants and several business owners recognized that waiting for a nation-wide lockdown to be lifted was not going to be feasible in the short-term.
Merchant is a platform designed to help these entrepreneurs sell their products in a way that is free of digital clutter seen in most social media platforms, while offering competitive low-cost operation.
The edge that Merchant App will have over its competitors is that the entire store is operable from a cellphone—a device that is increasingly more common compared to that of a laptop/computer.
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. The team and I were approached by a client who expressed their frustration with using bigger platforms such as Etsy and Shopify. They requested a solution that didn't need too much management—they wanted to focus on creating and refining their product while "setting and forgetting" the business side of the pursuit.
Often flooded with dashboards, notifications regarding the latest plugins, and metrics that aren't necessarily meaningful, both Etsy and Shopify interfaces can get get visually cluttered relatively quickly.
We concluded that our end solution needed to feature an interface that is intuitive enough to be used with the least amount of technological knowledge and mental exertion.
Meet Leonard Her. Leonard is a small business owner in Los Angeles, determined to expand his business to a full blown restaurant and deli. We'll use Leonard as a caricature to help us further understand how to help users achieve their goals by virtue of using certain features of the app.
I developed a flow that allows for a cohesive user experience while minimizing dead ends. Onboarding, store management, and inventory maintenance are some of the actions made available to the user.
These screens are geared towards giving us an overview of what the user might want to see. We have a dashboard that shows the user high-level data (revenue, units sold, and transactions completed) and a form to add new products.
After defining how the overall application would look like, I felt comfortable designing the rest of the screens that would supplement the overall user experience. I continued to iterate on the design moving forward while constantly revisiting pen and paper to establish a much more cohesive look and feel.
New users can start populating their store with products upon signing up. The onboarding process was made as seamless as possible for new users by giving them the ability to sign up with email.
Once we implemented the most important set of features (revenue, inventory, and transaction tracking) we found it useful to inaugurate a pilot program featuring 2 storefronts in order to collect more data. The developers on the team established a database that would give us metrics on how well [or inefficient] our product performed by providing a week-by-week summary of the amount of transactions and the overall usability of the application.
The following is a table of data that shows the transactions made for each of the storefronts within the course of 1.5 months. Success for us meant a steady rise in transactions, a regular increase of open orders by virtue of returning customers, and positive revenue for the user—all of which were seen during the program.
Part of our success metric was to gauge how successful the app was in addressing the needs of the technologically challenged. We conducted qualitative research by scheduling interviews with each business owner [and their team] to gain insight on how functional they thought the application was. The consensus of this discovery was that though the application was usable, generally intuitive, and simple, it needed a bit more features in order to meet the robust criteria that those in the pilot program had. Several of these criterion was to feature a customer-facing version of the app, the ability to manage multiple stores, and the functionality to create a team within the store.
Throughout the pilot program, I received several inquiries from other small businesses looking to move their sales online in search of a more lightweight yet robust solution. We plan to continue onboarding users in an effort to refine a desktop-less tool.
Creating an application that is inherently complex and furthermore used on desktop; and translating that into an experience in a mobile setting was a huge undertaking. There was a lot of foresight and research needed to ensure that the seamlessness from desktop to mobile was addressed. Through competitor research and user interviews, I was able to validate hypothesized pain points prior to the discovery. I found that a handful of small business owners were more technologically challenged and we needed to create a tool that gave them the freedom to invest more of their time in refining and creating new products. The data we gleaned was encouraging in that it helped us see where our app excelled and where it lacked. Needless to say, more data has to be collected, screens to be designed, and feedback to be received.
We have a detailed list of short term goals, not least of which is to onboard 10 businesses before the end of Q1 in 2021. The following is a preview of a more robust user flow chart, customer-facing interfaces, and gestures we plan on implementing once it's more feasible to create a native application.