Over the years, Gap’s product page had become bloated with information and hard to browse for users looking to evaluate the product, especially on smaller devices. Problems ranged from low quality product imagery to superfluous navigation on the page and discrepancies in information on the web and mobile site.
Collaborators: Product Management, User Research, Visual Design, Front-End Engineering, Brand leaders, Brand marketing
In my experience as an entrepreneur and designer, I have come to believe that as the number of possibilities and competitors at every step of creating an idea increase exponentially, the responsibility of design becomes not just about implementing business decisions in quality but indeed in shaping quality decisions in the first place.
Role: UX Strategy Lead
Collaborators: Brand marketing, Analytics, User Research, UX, Product Management, Finance
The UX Strategy framework was developed by Jaime Levy and its purpose is to evaluate the real potential of any new product idea. It uses design thinking while the business strategy is still being formulated and combines techniques from lean entrepreneurship, design thinking and growth marketing to validate ideas customers will pay for with their money or attention. The objective is to create a differentiated business model with a compelling value proposition.
Jaime has used her model in helping several entrepreneurs. You can read her case studies in her O’Reilly published book.
As retail becomes more and more crowded with smaller companies winning over customers and creating new markets with novel products (Stitchfix, Spring to name a few) and bigger companies entering into fashion (Amazon, Walmart etc), it becomes extremely important for an established brand like Gap to make and adapt their product and service offerings that fit in seamlessly with their customer’s rapidly changing lifestyle and expectations. Most companies try to simply follow their competition creating products that do not necessarily create any new value for their customers.
I believe that in order to remain ahead of the competition a brand must continuously look to areas in which it can lead with its offerings, instead of always trying to be a “fast follower”.
Traditionally, the analysis of which ideas an organization should develop or bet on has been owned by corporate strategy or the marketing teams (with occasional financial modelling) and execution constrained more or less by the operational capabilities. While these are critically important, I have always believe that a user centered approach to early idea evaluation is a crucial ingredient in making directional decision.
Needless to say that a design led approach truly puts the core of idea in the hands of real customers early without being biased by industry trends technological or operational constraints. In Jaime’s strategy framework, I found a comprehensive set of techniques that I wanted to adapt in the context of a large organization- that typically always kicks-of an idea based on business benefit as opposed to customer benefit.
In Gap brand’s initiative of giving away gifts to customers with their purchase, I found exactly such an idea. This was a brand marketing led initiative that was simply following a competitive offering with no real compelling differentiation (and struggling to do so smoothly due to technical constraints).
Gap brand had independently run a free giveaway campaign prior to reaching out to UX and product management.
There was general excitement about the idea since it had moved a lot of inventory (~85% of giveaways were claimed) with $0.5M in revenue and 60% of units activating new customers. But there was no real evidence of actually improving customer loyalty. Neither did the campaign target a large enough customer base.
The program was also using just the email channel with no increase in engagement. It is a known problem of customers being tuned out/lost due to excessive use of email marketing.
There were some problems that the marketing leads wanted to overcome for the next campaign. The initial problems that were brought up included:
Some of these were technical challenges while others were desires to have more flexibility in running the program- technological support for which may or may not exist currently.
The biggest assumption here was that enough number of customers would exhibit favorable behavior because something was free, regardless of the nature, relevance or conditions to claim the product. This was exactly following a competitors offering except that competitor is know for exclusively that category of product. With no real differentiation, the offering would merely be yet another promotional offer in the eyes of the customer instead of a strategic tool that fits in with the company’s overall goals of loyalty and personalization.
I saw this as opportunity to take a step back and first deeply understand what the notion of free meant to the existing Gap customer and what would create compelling new value for them instead of becoming “just another promotional offer”.
The UX Strategy Framework
By bringing user centered thinking ahead in the process of defining the business strategy, this frameworks has the following goals
The main purpose is to understand the nature and scope of the idea and to know early if this is something that’ll: a. simply add to the noise of the many similar competing ideas out there or b. fulfill a particular of aspect of an unmet customer needs or c. create brand new value for people that is genuinely a better (faster/cheaper) or newer way of doing something.
Point c. above is of course what will lead to a competitively differentiated offering while b. could also be valuable for smaller and quicker wins.
Gap brand was looking for new ways to increase customer acquisition, retention and ultimately loyalty in key product categories without leaning heavily on incentives like promotion code based savings.
One of the issues brand leaders identified was a very low awareness about the quality and durability of Gap undergarments. These products are proven in the apparel industry to have returning customers but they are certainly not what Gap brand is known for in the customer’s mind.
Looking at competitors, business wanted to implement the idea of giving away these undergarments as a gift to customers with a purchase above a certain dollar amount; essentially offering free customer trials of products.
The vision from there on out was to extend this gifting idea for introducing new product lines, making gifts increasingly personalized.
I conducted two weeks of interviews and meetings with the marketing leads to discover this vision. So much of this idea hinged on enticing customers with actual products instead of savings that it becomes very important to understand what key categories did existing customers already value and purchase repeatedly.
For this, I reached out to the Analytics team at Gap that had recently been studying purchase behavior around key categories. Overall, only 50% of the customers that shop Gap come back to shop more within 30 days but usually in the same category. The top category was knit tops by a fair distance. Undergarments as expected, did not feature in the top 10. The chances of shopping a third time increased significantly (~70%) from the second time to the third time.
Once the business strategy driving the idea was understood, I began with shifting the point of view of the problem from the business to the customers’.
The problem statement was modified to:
There is no compelling way for a customer to become aware and try out new products/categories from Gap.
And the hypothesis to solve this problem was:
If we give away a free item from a popular product category to a shopper, then they are likely to try or purchase the product from Gap brand.
In the value innovation stage the objective is to
In conventional lean methodology, a list of assumptions and facts would be made. Experiments would then be conducted to learn more about these assumptions and the hypothesis in an effort to validate/invalidate the problem. This usually requires a bigger, interdisciplinary team and some instrumentation to measure the results.
In keeping with the spirit of eliminating waste (of bigger team and designing and measuring experiments), the strategy framework actually recommends doing a qualitative check with guerrilla research initially. For this purpose, a provisional persona is created, embedded in which are the fact and assumptions one has about the customer as well as the problem.
This was the provisional persona we came up with for the gift with purchase concept
We made certain assumptions about the behavior of a potential customer based on some of the data. Things like shops Gap only for tops and bottoms (two most popular categories), subscribes to Gap email (a requirement in order to be reached).
Then we draw out the problem and the hypothesis into a set of real customer needs and motivations. For instance, she is motivated to keep her wardrobe updated and so she would appreciate an easy way to learn about new product offerings (this is what the problem states). Always looks for offers and deals (this is assumed in the hypothesis), requires validation of her shopping choices (again, popular category is assumed in the problem statement) etc.
This is a very quick way of guessing at the existing mental model of a potential customer. With cheap and rapid guerrilla research, we can uncover whether this mental model and therefore the problem and the hypothesis exists in reality.
The idea is to get as accurate an understanding of reality as possible as early and cheaply as possible. The simple question is if this idea is worth pursuing? If so, how? If not, why?
We recruited some participants for quick one on one 20 min interviews. The interviews were done to establish if the participant would even be a potential- one at most two simple yes/no screener questions are required and whether the idea holds any appeal to this person- a money question where the core idea is pitched to get a reaction.
Do you read emails sent to you by apparel brands?
How often and where do you shop for apparel?
Do you shop Gap?
How do you discover new items?
Do you have certain go to brands for specific product categories like jeans from Levis only?
What would make you try a new product? A deal? Reviews? Something else?
Imagine Gap had a new, highly rate product in a popular category like say undergarments, and they send you an email offering it to you for free as a gift with your purchase. Would you shop Gap to claim your gift?
If yes, what’s the most compelling thing about this offer- fact that it is free or that it is highly rated or something else?
If no, what info would you need in order to evaluate this offer?
Tell us an example of a free giveaway product on Gap that you think would be valuable enough for you to consider shopping the brand.
After recruiting and speaking with 9 participants (for guerrilla research we often test at the Gap café at the HQ with employees, few friends of friends or a set of customer panelists that opt in for such testing), a clearer picture emerged.
The biggest insight was that people value utility of some sort when something is given away for free. Meaningful free is the new expectation.
Other main finding was that her interests lie in items that she already uses, items that are exclusive and/or limited, items that the brand is known for or items that she is already looking for.
This led to a reframed hypothesis and an updated provisional persona
Reframed Hypothesis: If customers are gifted a useful product then they are willing to shop the brand because of the perceived utility and quality of the item
More details about the customers behaviors, needs and motivation also got revealed early.
The full process and findings are documented here.
Since there was appeal for a free product with some utility, a customer value proposition statement was created.
Value Proposition: Making customers aware of a product they will find useful by giving it away free as a gift with their purchase.
This was the main lens through which to evaluate the competitors.
Traditional competitive research at Gap is done by looking at hundreds of retailers, capturing screenshots and synthesizing the findings. It is a highly exhaustive and time consuming process which only tells you how competitors have designed something but not necessarily why (especially from a business perspective).
Using Jaime’s competitive matrix allows researching competitive experiences through the lens of the value proposition statement pinpointing direct competition (offering exactly the same value proposition), identifying indirect competition (variation on the idea) and some inspiring competition (same concept in a different industry for instance).
We then study the direct competition in detail, while cherry picking parts from indirect competition or from companies in a different industry executing the same idea.
This lead to a very focused research period that helped distributing the time spent on evaluating experiences much more efficiently.
Direct competition was studied in detail and general patterns were identified faster.
The competitive analysis showed that no other competitor is gifting apparel as a means to introduce customers to new or useful products. Gifts with purchase concept is mostly being used in lieu of a promotional code or to hand out free samples in case of cosmetics.
Could not find competitors giving exclusive or personalized items as gifts.
Direct competition was studied in detail and general patterns were identified faster.
By combining utility, exclusivity and personalization in the gift experience, Gap could successfully make customers aware of their offerings.
These findings were shared with the brand marketing leaders along with a host of strategic questions around the possible combinations of giveaways for instance, can giveaways be made always around utility (general product category like jeans) or exclusivity (specific item like a star-wars tee), could there be a choice of gifts, could a past purchase be the giveaway instead of the new product?
This inspired richer conversations with marketing leaders and was an important step in aligning UX success metrics with that of the business.
We brainstormed four different variations of this value proposition and storyboarded the key experiences for each. These are at most 3 screens that can communicate to someone how the idea will work. It works like a low fidelity prototype of concept allowing people to react to the just the main core of it.
These value innovations were then tested with users. The base experience was what was currently being offered.
Testing value innovations: free popular item, choice of free popular item,free previously purchased item and free popular item for repeat purchasing an item.
Overwhelmingly, people liked choice or concept #2 because of the perceived control in selecting the gift. Personalized favorite item as free (#3) also held appeal but was by no means conclusive.
The last step in validating the concepts involve some growth marketing tactics like landing page experiments. In this case, we aimed to run a set of two facebook ads getting help from marketing in defining the audience.
The idea at this point is for UX to follow along the marketing funnel and metrics and understand how such an idea could grow and in what customer segment.
The volume of email sign ups for both these ideas would be used to compare traction.
This would allow for a much cheaper, faster and leaner directional read on what customers find value in.
Note: I’m withholding publishing of the results of these test as gaining approval for such kind of testing is a work in progress at the time of this writing.
The final step of the UX strategy process is the actual design of the idea that is thoroughly validated with customers. By robustly defining the UX strategy, designers can focus purely on making the experience delightful.
This is a work in progress but the process yielded significant UX improvements for the current implementation by simply landing the customer on the product page of the gift as opposed to the gift assortment page (as observed competitively). It also removed the necessity of a unique code (reducing a great deal of process steps of setting up a code), added a persistent navigation affordance for going back to the gift product page and worked out the effect of adding a gift to the current shopping bag (this was skipped over in the current implementation).
By collaborating early and constantly with the business as well as product management, not only are the criteria for success are aligned but also the actual design iterations are more directed. UX team now has more bandwidth to quickly create interactive prototypes with modern interactions or even directly pair with engineering to begin tracking quantitative results.
Too often UX teams are burdened with modifying designs and changing directions mid-way through a project allowing for little time to add the details and polish that make an experience truly joyful. Establishing the value proposition of the idea early and firmly with the users allows for greater focus on the detailing of the final experience.
Note: I have used the UX strategy framework for another project at Gap which was around analyzing a conversational commerce idea. I have found this process is to be quite effective when a new technology needs to be evaluated to solve a business need. Read the full report of my conversational commerce UX strategy.