‘Driving the Next Billion Sales in India’ | Re-imagining the Hyper-Local sales model | Part 2/3 – Ideation

In case you haven’t had a chance to check part 1 of this article, just a quick recap.

I recently completed my semester long pre-thesis project at college under the guidance of my project guide Riyaz Sheikh. It was quite a long and challenging journey with ample learnings at various stages. Apart from learnings about the domain there have been loads of learnings about the process and my practice as well.

Part 1 of this article describes my entire research phase including my reflection as a practitioner. In this part, I will be taking you through the ideation process where I explored various concepts and how I narrowed down on the final concept.


Market Research

Aligning to my findings/insights from primary research and the resultant design directions – market research was conducted to study and understand existing offerings – their success and shortcomings to ideate further on what more could be done in the segments.

Business/Service Listings

Just Dial | Google Maps

This was an important segment for me to study for it almost directly overlapped with the idea of assisteing local market exchanges.

Below are a couple of findings :

  • Allow searching for businesses NOT products.
  • Often the info is erranous and unverified.
  • Do not provide any quick channels of reaching out to the seller.

Hyperlocal Start-Ups

Zoppers | Dunzo | Groffers | BigBasket | Doodhwala

Hyperlocal start-ups too aligned with the direction I was headed, hence some research was done to understand them as well.

Most offerings were omni-channel models that aimed at local sourcing of product and quick delivery, did not exactly work on connecting a seller and a buyer.
Zopper, which did indeed work towards connecting sellers and buyers – failed in 2012 because of an early start in 2012 when the market was still basking in the glory of e-commerce offerings.

Online-To Offline Platform

Lenskart | Pepperfry | Croma

Although there wasn’t much to learn from these offerings for they were not concerned with local sellers at all. But understanding them was crucial to strengthening my stance around a need for physicall shopping experience. These services were giving physical outlets/channels to a primarily digital service. And their reasons for doing so helped me with cues as to what other aspects about physical shopping could be looked into to model my eventual design.

Micro Credit

SHG (Self Help Groups) – Peer based growth and assurance | Tala – Unconventional
parameters (mobile data) to generate trust | Kiva – “Charity Loans” | Zidisha – Small Interest rate fo rthe lender | LazyPay

Exploring these models was crucial to me to look at any/models that have been successful with credit giving. However most micro-financing only focused on business growth and targeted at the extremely poor. Though the success of some models did give cues for inspiration on similar models to assist sales and market purchases.

Digital Marketing Tools | Platforms for Small Business/ C-2-C Platforms

Social Media (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram) | Websites | Blogging

These platforms were interesting for they made gentle transitions from social media to sale platforms and attracted a lot more seller listings as a result and from a hitherto unattracted audience at that too. However there were shortcomings too :

  • FB/Insta/Whatsapp – Business Communication Channels. Not meant for conducting the actual business itself.
  • FB Marketplace – Only allows for single item listings. Does not facilitate for systematic inventory based selling.
  • Online/personal network based, as opposed to geographical network based.

Ideation

After identifying the gaps in existing market offerings, I began ideation for my opportunity areas.


Developing Ideas to Concepts

Shortlisted ideas were fleshed out and some details/features were added to form concepts that can be validated.

Apart from their justice to the brief and proposal these ideas were selected because of them spreading across the technology gamut, which made them interesting concepts to validate and see which direction got more acceptance amongst target users.


Storyboarding

Storyboards were developed for both the ideas for concept validation with the users.

The storyboards developed not only showed the ‘hero’ scenario for the concept, but also depicted troublesome scenarios that might arouse as a result of it. The idea here was to get the user talking and critically thinking about the solution in the validation phase.


Concept Validation

Initially the plan was to conduct concept validation by asking general preparatory questions to the users, then showing them the hero scenario of my concept, ask questions around that and finally show the villian scenario and ask questions around that.


Pilot Study

A pilot was conducted with one buyer and one seller. Instantaneously I realized that my protocol wasn’t working. Below are a couple of insights from my finding about conducting concept validation with the Next Billion Users.

Reflection

Lack of Understanding of a Designer’s role

In both my pilots as I began with my disclaimer explaining my project and introducing myself as a design student, there was a lot of confusion and subsequent question as to what I did, and why something like this was a “design” project. The stereotype around ‘design’ as strictly a visual design principle seemed to cause this.

What this resulted in was a confusion in my participant’s mind as to my intent was with the study. When I explained them and said it was “my” project and “my” solution to a problem, they understood it as something I’m doing in real life/time. So the first thing I did was my disclaimer/introduction. I simply stated that this is a college project – moving attention away from my discipline and proposed the concept as “a” solution and not “my” solution, and proceeded with getting their reaction on if something like that could be useful.

That helped me getting some indifference on the concept itself and prevented any biases being introduced with the presumption that it was a studen project/solution.

This was somewhat deceiving but in my actual study it really helped as people respnded to it indifferently, often at time reviewing it as an existing solution/service.

Storyboards not effective as a mode of communication

Another realisation was that storyboards weren’t that affective a means to assist the communication of my concept. Maybe very well done storyboards might have. But the rough ones I had made didn’t serve much purpose. They were as distant to the user as a complex system map would be. The amount of information the complete story held was too overwhelming for them to process in a go.

It was quite a heart break initially. But then I had the insight from my primary research that there was high engagement with handbills. So I went back to the studio and made some quick handbills for both my concepts. The idea was to break ice with them by showing the handbill. Although the handbill by itself did not convey the complete concept in its own, but it helped create a simpley layer of conceptual understanding of the idea. This was then further expanded by showing the storyboard after that which didn’t seem as overwhelming now they had a rough idea of what the service was.

This trick worked quite well, and I decided on using for the remainder of my study.


Re-worked Protocol

So for my reworked protocol I decided on showing the handbills to the users before showing them the storyboards. And it worked much better.


Concept Validation Sample

Concept Validation was carried out with around nine participants. Participants mostly belonged to lower socio-economic classes. Four were sellers and five were buyers. All of them lived in urban areas of Bangalore.


User Feedback

From Buyers

  • The digital divide was still very high and inconsistent. Although most of the participants owned a smart-phone, usage was bare minimum and often slow cumbersome. So it was important for me to note that any technologically dependent intervention keeps this digital divide in mind.
  • Another valuable finding was the participants in the target user group lacked the behavioral pattern of constantly researching about a product and options before making a purchase. This is a pattern commonly found in the more technologically adept user group who would look at various websites for prices before buying something.
  • The hope is that the intervention I propose could inculcate that behavior and actually serve towards the agenda of market empowrment.
  • Although the ability to make credit based purchases was cited by almost everyone as the foundation to social relationships between the buyer and seller – but most participants in the study claimed to prefer third party intervention for credit than direct seller contact for repayment.
  • The ability to make EMI based payment was also expressed as an aspiration.
  • Self-deposits were prefered over group deposits.
  • Fairly digital literate users of the lot who had tried online services talked about its benefits and utility to them and talked about “better prices”, “ease of comparing” and “at home” services.
  • High exposure to products/services through the medium of handbills/newspaper ads/billboards and word of mouth. Content (of the handbills) in local languages and easy accessibility was worked for them.

From Sellers

  • The digital divide was very high and inconsistent for sellers as well. Although most of the participants owned a smart-phone, usage was bare minimum and often slow cumbersome. So it was important for me to note that any technologically dependent intervention keeps this digital divide in mind.
  • Like buyers, even sellers preferred third party assurance for credit, and were generally were wary of the concept. Almost all of them had been deceited due to it and incurred heavy losses.
  • The only way to expand inventory (other than what the distributor proposed) and compare their business to other businesses was customer’s word. This was a cue that if something could be done to systematically monitor and intake this user data, it might be of utility.
  • All of the sellers interviewed were excited about the digital marketing techniques offered through both the concepts and agreed it could be useful for businesses.

Expert Feedback

The concept was presented to a panel of service design and human centered design experts. The following was their feedback :

  • Credit could be a menace if it is allowed rampantly. The existing social fabric and practices of markets keeps a check on whom is credit given to. The system has to make sure that it builds on those practices and not disrupt it fully.
  • The user group needs to be defined more definitely in terms of their behavioral and consumption patterns.
  • Proper definition of “commerce” needs to be in place.
  • There is also a social network of the sellers, consider that when you would introduce something like this in the fabric.

Continue reading about this project in part 3 where I elaborate on the incorporation of the feedback and development of the final service model.

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