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Moonpig on innovating during a pandemic, internal empathy and nailing the basics of UX


Camila Diaz is Head of Product Design and Research at online greetings cards and gift company Moonpig. At Moonpig, Product Design is a discipline that comprises a range of UX-related functions, including user research, user experience design, information architecture, visual design interaction, and service design thinking.

As such, Diaz played a pivotal role in the company’s innovation when demand soared during the initial stages of the pandemic as brick and mortar shops were closing their doors, and families who were unable to see their loved ones in person looked to Moonpig for ways to send greetings. At Econsultancy Live 2021: What’s Next for CX, Diaz spoke to Econsultancy Editor Ben Davis about how Moonpig dealt with the demand and brought its e-card products to market in the space of just one week.

She also spoke about how Moonpig tackles the challenge of understanding the customer who never shops for themselves, and why designers need to become better acquainted with the business side of their organisations.

Innovating through the chaos of early lockdown

“Last year, when the UK was going into lockdown in March, we were just about to enter the Mother’s Day peak,” said Diaz. “We have four main trading peaks that happen over the year – Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas – and Mother’s Day is by far our biggest one.” The combination of an already busy period with an impending lockdown in which people would not be able to see their loved ones lead to an explosion in demand the likes of which Moonpig had never experienced.

“All of a sudden, we started seeing three times the amount of visitors, and our products were just flying off the shelves. But no business is prepared to make changes to a physical part of a pipeline that fast,” Diaz explained. Moonpig found itself unable to produce products quickly enough to meet demand, and on top of this, there was the looming threat of possibly needing to reduce the number of staff in its factories for safety reasons – which would have further impacted production capacity.

Moonpig’s leadership found itself making extremely rapid decisions about what to prioritise. “Our overall goal was to service customers – we wanted to make sure that our customers could send their best wishes to their loved ones,” said Diaz. “Based on that one specific goal, we made a few different decisions.”

As a first step, Moonpig adapted its product offering, favouring products that could be produced quickly and that needed less storage. It also moved up the timeline on a project that had been under discussion at the company for some time: e-cards. “We basically formed a spontaneous team – I was a designer in the team, and our Head of Product was the PM (project manager) – and we pulled engineers from across the whole company. We were able to release a product end-to-end within one week.”

The product wasn’t without its bugs upon release, admitted Diaz; but “by the second day, it was already delivering value to our customers.” Diaz herself carried out user research and condensed a sprint into the span of one day, meaning that by the next day, the engineers could use the research to start building flows.

Reflecting on how Moonpig adapted internally during Covid-19 to make itself more agile and responsive to change, Diaz said, “Probably the main thing that needed to change over the past year was that we needed to get a lot better at prioritising. You’re in a situation where you have demand that grew up overnight; also, over the last year, Moonpig became a public company – so, you have a couple of circumstances that meant change for everybody in the company.

“There are lots of ambitious goals – we all get very excited about goals, and we want to do everything, but the reality is resources are time and finite, so you need to get better at choosing what you’re going to work on, and what is not going to get done.”

Understanding the customer who is not buying for themselves

Moonpig is faced with a unique conundrum when it comes to understanding the customer and recommending products to them, because shoppers who buy from Moonpig are always buying with others in mind – meaning that their own tastes and preferences have little bearing on the purchase they are making, and they rarely shop for the same person twice in a row.

“Whereas other ecommerce sites like Asos or Amazon can use lots of things they know about you to surface products to you the next time you visit, for us it’s a little bit more difficult to do that, and that’s why I think Moonpig is such an interesting problem space,” said Diaz.

“There are some things [we can use to make predictions]; there might be some topics you stay away from – maybe you don’t like rude cards, so we will try not to show you rude cards – or maybe your last five cards were rude, so we will surface something similar; but there isn’t a lot of that information that we can use. We have to think about other ways of surfacing content that is relevant to you.”

To address this problem, Moonpig uses machine learning and some other, similar smart recommendation methods; but Diaz also said that she “believes strongly in getting the basics right” to help users find the best product for them.

“When you have a range of 25,000 and growing – and we aim to have a range that is incredibly diverse, so that anyone who comes to our site can find something for even the most niche of occasions – we need to go back to the basics of making sure our filters our right; our navigation is right; the content we are surfacing is relevant to you. Just being able to signpost your journey throughout our experience, making sure that your browsing experience is not overly complicated – getting those UX basics right.”

Davis asked whether obtaining zero-party data, such as by proactively asking customers about their needs and preferences, plays a role in helping to overcome the challenge of not knowing exactly who the customer might be shopping for next. However, while Diaz’s team does frequently work with data – and Diaz says that “some of the best work I’ve done as a designer has been in collaboration with data” – she again stressed the importance of nailing the basics.

“We definitely believe in having ways that customers can give input, and let us know what they would prefer; there’s a few features in the roadmap that are gearing towards that, but right now, the real focus of my team, at least, is to make sure the basics are covered. That our products are properly tagged, so when you input a search term, what you’re looking for is what is surfaced, and nothing that is irrelevant; the other thing is that we design for diversity and inclusion, so we have multiple spellings for something, and synonyms and other related words.

“There are lots of very smart things you can do in terms of personalisation by using data science, but those should be built on a foundation of really solid information architecture,” she concluded.

Why designers need to be business-savvy

Designers tend to be the champions of empathy within a business, an important quality which often involves advocating for the user and making sure that they are placed at the centre of decision-making as often as possible. However, Diaz pointed out that designers don’t always extend that same empathy towards their colleagues when they make a request that may seem unreasonable or unwarranted.

“Not very often do you find designers stopping to think, ‘Why am I getting this request? What’s behind it? What is the kind of pressure that the person on the other end of this request is experiencing?’” Diaz said. “‘What are their goals, and how can I best help to support those goals, so that we can pull in the same direction?’

“When I speak about empathising internally, that is what I mean – taking a little bit of time to understand what the goals are, the needs, the problems; what are the things that these other teams lose sleep over? So that we can better understand the why of a request – and possibly offer a better alternative.”

Beyond making it easier to collaborate between teams, Diaz made the point that this empathy can help to ensure that designers’ needs are, in turn, prioritised.

“I truly think that designers need to work on building their business acumen. Designers – and I count myself in this group – are not very business-minded; we for the most part don’t have a good understanding of how the business makes money.

“If you really want the business to care for design, you have to start caring about the business first: understanding trading cycles, supply chains, relationships with external suppliers. Having a good internal understanding of how things work will help in gaining that internal empathy and make the impact of what you’re producing so much more valuable to the business and the users.”

Moonpig’s Camila Diaz spoke at Econsultancy Live 2021 ‘What’s next for CX?’ Ticket holders can watch all sessions on demand until the end of May 2021.



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