How we rapidly validated an e-commerce MVP for a California startup
Developing a new product requires validating your ideas before committing time or resources, and rapid validation can save you both time and effort. Early on, you can pinpoint any potential problems or roadblocks and pivot if needed by testing your ideas quickly and efficiently. In this blog, we will show you how we validated E-commerce MVP for The Expert, one of our long-term clients.
First things first, what exactly is “The Expert”?
It is a platform that connects world-class interior designers with clients via online consultations.
In 2020, the first Covid-19 pandemic sparked the whole idea. Jake Arnold, an interior designer and one of the co-founders, began receiving hundreds of direct messages on Instagram from people all over the world asking for design advice.
Leo Seigal and Jake Arnold came up with the idea to create a 1:1 video consultation for a fee for those who seek advice from the best designers out there, whether they’re looking for an expert’s eye to help conceptualize their space from scratch or seeking a second opinion to guide their own efforts. With this idea in mind, they turned to us to build a platform from scratch.
Their idea took off and the product enjoyed unprecedented interest around the world. The platform has also been featured in high-profile magazines such as the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, ELLE Decor, The New York Times, Forbes, Domino, and others.
With more than 200+ world top design talents, $15mil. funding (Gwyneth Paltrow is among those who invested too!), naturally a question arose - how can we scale this product and help it grow further?
Let’s take a look at how we approached it.
We initially assumed that people who wanted to consult on interior renovations would naturally be interested in purchasing furniture. Additionally, we were counting on a principle of authority - customers would follow a famous interior designer's recommendation and buy the specific product. With this hypothesis we set out to test it.
Validate fast, with the least effort
How does one validate such a hypothesis in the quickest possible way, avoiding unnecessary development effort should the idea prove fruitless? Here’s a thought:
After a video consultation between an interior designer and a client is over, the designer usually sends a follow-up summary with notes, pictures and action steps to the client. Why don’t we at this point, fitting naturally into the client’s journey, follow up with an extra email from the Expert’s sales team with a proposition of free procurement of any product that the client wants based on the designer’s recommendation?
By utilizing this simple technique in testing quickly with barely any development effort, within 2 weeks we had enough of $ in sales to prove our hypothesis worthy of fully implementing.
As a result of this successful validation, The Expert's original platform eventually evolved and now boasts a fully custom e-commerce module.
The MVP mindset we like to incorporate at Sudolabs means that we aim for maximum of 8 week cycle from the first idea to the final MVP validation. As a result, we are more versatile in pivoting and saving our and client’s time, money and effort.
User journey begins before customers even reach the site
As the idea for the e-commerce platform evolved, after multiple iterations we designed an e-commerce prototype and ran a series of tests with the target audience. In these tests one thing became abundantly clear: people’s journey into buying furniture starts way before they actually land on the site. For people who haven’t got an idea what kind of furniture or style they might want, they either consult someone or look for inspiration.
In our case, the inspiration journey starts mainly on social media platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest. Social commerce - shopping directly on social media - is one of the trends that’s defined innovation in e-commerce in the recent years. So knowing that the e-commerce funnel starts here was crucial for us, as we realized we had to have our presence sorted at the top of the funnel.
Based on that, we identified 3 core funnels in our user’s journey - the consultation funnel, the commerce funnel, and the inspirational funnel.
Let’s do as minimal MVP as possible, but not too ‘mnmal’
Borrowed from Albert Einstein’s quote, while it’s a good idea to try to do things as quickly as possible with minimal effort, there’s a line in the sand that needs to be drawn. And it’s called table stakes functionality. If you are familiar with the Kano prioritization model, you know that users expect certain basic functionality to get a certain job done.
We got our first hand experience of seeing the table stakes requirements in action when we tested the first prototype of the mobile menu. This prototype enhanced with only very little additional functionality compared to the original menu. And let us tell you, it tanked! People were missing information, didn’t understand the context of certain words and all-in-all, told us we had to be better!
We listened and enhanced the menu with labels, additional product categories and clearer, more specific wording.
Getting more specific in UX design will help you win
Marketers and copywriters often play around with wording, texts, or brand names. Even though it sounds exciting and original, it may not necessarily work from a usability perspective.
In our case, it feels natural and part of the brand to work with the word “expert”. However, when tested, those unfamiliar with the service weren’t clear what the word meant. ‘Is it a customer service agent? Or an interior designer?’ Just this one word created confusion and controversy.
We learned that by making the UX writing and copy more specific, it usually results in easier navigation, better understanding and reduced friction.
It is uncertainty that kills conversion
Let’s imagine a basic funnel - out of 100% of users who visit your landing page, usually only about 1-2% successfully complete the conversion process and make it to the end. As users travel through this journey, they need information in order to make it to the next step. If they don’t get it, they feel stuck and can’t progress. It is therefore viable for us (and any other funnel-based business) to understand the kind of questions that can come up at each particular step.
At the beginning, it starts with high-level questions like "Can I trust this website? Who’s behind it? What’s the overall impression of the brand that I get? What is the product offering? What are the price points?" As and if people have these questions answered, their focus shifts to a more task at hand kind of question: "How can I find what I’m looking for? What’s the shipping cost for that piece? Can I get a personal assistance?" The more people dive into the site, the more information they require.
Only testing can reveal what information users actually expect at each step. If we provide it to them, the boost of confidence it gives them is likely to result in increased conversions.
When people stumble upon a brand and like its overall impression and content, their thoughts tend to gravitate towards the word why: Why should I buy from this brand? Who’s behind it?
Providing a place to tell the brand’s story, showing real people behind it, letting people into your metaphorical kitchen will almost always be the missing credibility piece important for you to successfully sell online. Whether it’s having an internal About us page, or external media and social media presence, this gained credibility will serve as a foundation for your sales. And if there’s a mission statement to your brand that resonates, it even builds loyalty, reducing price sensitivity from the get go.
Keep calm and test on…
Our last lesson learned - test, test, test…The Expert launched The Expert’s e-commerce platform called “Showroom” in January 2023, and it was just the beginning. Since then, many other functionalities have been slowly brewing in the pipeline.
Since product design is a never ending process of understanding the user and business needs and then finding ways to solve them, we’ve started incorporating A/B testing and continuous discovery to set ourselves for user and data informed decision making.
The Expert is one of many digital products we build for startups and cover every stage of the process - from product discovery, user research, prototyping & testing to complex software development. We can kick off your first MVP in 4 weeks!
In case you need ready-to-go & dedicated team of product managers, designers and engineers, we are ready to help. Drop us a line on [email protected] and let’s turn your product idea into a successful product!