Imagine: You develop a state-of-the-art technology, it solves a problem, investors are excited, and the tech wins awards. But it goes to market and doesn’t sell. Why? Because solving consumer problems with technology requires considering not only user problems but also their willingness to actually adopt the solution.
As a case study, let’s take a story we know well: our own. Fit Analytics was started in 2010 as a way to solve the issue of not knowing apparel sizes when shopping online. It was frustrating for consumers to purchase items that didn’t fit and then deal with making a return — or worse, not being able to return it and be stuck with something that wasn’t going to work. Customers needed help navigating variable and confusing apparel sizing, and it made shopping online a massive headache for both consumers and retailers. With this in mind, our founders got to work on finding a solution to help buyers identify their correct size before making a purchase.
The original solution was a web-based application where consumers stood in front of their webcam while holding a CD to calibrate their measurements. In return, our software determined the correct size. It was cutting-edge at the time. Investors loved the solution, and it won numerous technology awards.
However, there was a massive problem: The customers didn’t like using the webcam application. At the onset of online privacy concerns, customers were not comfortable with the webcam and the effort required to get imaging done was time-consuming. This was a pivotal lesson that we used to determine a better solution that solved apparel sizing that shoppers loved using.
The Magic of Product Discovery
We learned to focus on user feedback in launching new applications so we can better understand the solutions consumers are craving. Our Fit Finder solution — which has since been adopted by leaders in apparel retail — was developed as a result of the data collected and the feedback from the initial web-based platform. Through extensive and ongoing user testing, we ensure this solution stays relevant to our clients’ shoppers.
Our UX team has integrated product discovery as an initial step in our product development lifecycle. Product discovery is used to determine if and why a solution should be developed by answering critical questions to validate our initial assumptions about the end user.
When we uncover potential solutions, we strive to build products that both meet a need and have viability to sell. Instead of taking ideas and assumptions to developers to create an MVP, we now get product validation and collect feedback through focus groups and user testing. In this phase, we have a structure to gather user feedback to uncover underlying pain points, as well as an understanding of use cases and product adoption. This added step ensures we only develop products that are most likely to land within the intersection of user needs, business needs, and technical capabilities.
Prepare to Be Surprised
Recently, we were re-evaluating a new product functionality that would simplify the user inputs currently required in our sizing tool. We selected a pool of potential end users and did a blind test of the concept to see if shoppers would be receptive to this new visual technology.
Users were able to access both the current Fit Finder technology as well as the new technology, and we gathered feedback on both solutions. We identified patterns within their feedback that the visual technology was actually harder to use. They were uncomfortable with the visual aspect and recording, and — despite being impressed with the technology — it wasn’t practical for real use. With this exercise, we learned a counterintuitive lesson we might have overlooked if we had simply followed our assumptions without validating them. The new, more advanced technology was not in fact better than our current offering, which users enjoyed. The current solution was already simple and trusted — and it resolved their pain points with finding their apparel size.
This product discovery and validation process requires upfront investment and time commitment, but the ROI is there. Developers should only work on products that address real problems and have been vetted by user feedback and use cases.
This ensures that decision making is based on users and not assumptions. By having this clear understanding up front, you can save your product team months of work and create a more efficient development cycle that will yield the kinds of features that will truly drive revenue.