7 Questions for designing store-based internal apps

7 Questions for designing store-based internal apps

7 Questions for designing store-based internal apps

Posted on 4 Oct 2023

There are many touch-points and channels with which a company might reach their customers. Retail stores can offer in-person face-to-face interactions to answer questions, offer services, support, education and of course, last but not least - facilitate purchases.

What we might miss as customers (who are front-of-house) is the supporting processes and technology that enables a company, and its employees to deliver. These might be executed and maintained back-of-house and often will remain unseen. Digital transformation and the integration of digital technologies into all aspects of business operations still requires us, mortal humans, to carry out many tasks or processes. These tasks vary across businesses and industries but are especially important where empathy and social skills are required. This is another case for user-centered design.

In every post I held at while working at Apple Retail, I found that for every task at hand - there was an app for that. Over the course of almost eight years I used many apps that helped me enable teams to do their best work and exceed customer expectations. I witnessed many updates and evolutions that testify to the research, testing, iteration and UAT that must take place long before internal apps are deployed for the use of employees. Designed with end-users in mind you could equate those internal apps as having the same level of attention in their design process as those in the public release. Supporting the journey of the retail teams supports the journey of customers who step foot in a store.

Despite having huge appreciation for all the work that happens ahead of deployment, there would occasionally be moments where I thought “Wouldn’t it be good if I could do X”. I now understand that those often feature-based ideas would benefit from synthesising and examining in closer detail to determine their utility. It could even be that my needs (or perceived needs in actual fact) had been already considered, debated, tested and decided against without my knowing. 

When in any store, restaurant, service or hospitality venue I'm always curious about how technology is leveraged to get through the day. With that, here are some questions I would endeavour to ask when designing for such environments. These are adaptable to most settings due to their broad nature and could be applicable to the early discovery stage of any project as a starting point.

For the project team

  1. What is the problem or problems to be solved?

  2. How have we validated the problem(s) and our understanding? 

  3. What are the root causes of the problem(s)?

  4. How will we know when the problem is solved?

  5. Who is affected by the problem? (End-users and stakeholders)

  6. Have others in the market solved this problem? 

  7. How are we the same or different to them, what are our constraints?

For the project stakeholders 

  1. What is the impact of the problem?

  2. Has research been done previously?

  3. How can the problem be qualified or quantified? (e.g. time lost, money spent)

  4. What does success look like to you for this project?

  5. Have any previous solutions been explored? 

  6. Why have previous solutions failed?

  7. Who do you think may be useful to connect with outside of the immediate project team?

For the end-users

  1. What does a typical day look like to you?

  2. What tasks do you have to complete and what do they involve?

  3. What problems do you see when trying to complete your tasks?

  4. What workarounds do you have? 

  5. How does the problem impact you? 

  6. How does the problem impact customers or others?

  7. What are your frustrations?

There are many more I could think of off the top of my head, but for the sake of brevity that's all for now.

No matter what space we're working in it is vital to understand the user, their needs, the goal or task at hand, and the surrounding context to meet them where they are and design the right solution. It is just as important to monitor and iterate the solution as time passes to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose and aligns to business goals and constraints where applicable.

Thanks for reading!