A Startup Case Study: A User Experience approach to solving problems?

Local brick and motor shop featured image

This is a case study that was done in 2011 in Dubai, UAE.


Customers don’t have an easy & effective way to order perishable items online for a fast & reliable delivery under an hour in UAE.

Most brick and motor retailers and brands don’t have a multi-channel approach to connecting with consumers.


To research and come up with a solution that addresses problems of consumers and brick & motor shops across various verticals like Fashion, Retailers, Spa, Laundry services, Restaurants, Footwear etc.


Since, I envisioned to create my own business opportunity, I had spent some time off my regular work.

E commerce in the middle east constitutes to about 0.4% of the regions GDP and the sales projections by 2020 are a crazy $20 billion.

I had analyzed a lists of 70 consumers aged 20-50 for a period of 7 weeks across different residential communities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai which were two major emirates with majority of the working population concentration of 5.82 million out of 9.54 million. Most of the consumer’s utilitarian and hedonistic shopping are done during the weekends in bulk. I discovered that about 70% of the consumers were finding it difficult to go to large malls to buy quick miscellaneous items as it takes more than 1 hour to shop in a mall besides parking and commuting to the mall especially when the need arises during the weekdays. There weren’t any efficient online or Phone ordering solutions available in the market.

Secondary Research, Direct Interviews, Observation Studies & Surveys were a logical cost effective approaches for me to conduct within context. For the surveys I had to develop a bilingual questionnaire in English and Arabic language using survey monkey and for the direct interview I had prepared a protocol. A few inferences from the interview include

“Consumers are always happy with how they buy their groceries as they get used to the regular practice”

User Research Findings

Most of the problems were not indented as problems as we as human beings learn to live with it.

As per the desk research conducted by referring to a few research papers online. I understood that local economy benefits if consumers buy products from locally owned businesses. So the value equation goes something like the one mentioned below. Every 10$ spent on local stores contribute approximately 5$ to the local economy while every 10$ spent on international chain of stores contribute 3$ to the local economy

Local Economy Benifits

Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis was also done based on the following factors by gathering information on a global perspective through secondary research from Sales brochures, Newspapers, Magazines and online articles etc.

I started with a set of basic questions to identify various players in the market like

UX Research Protocol

Out of all the list of identified competitors, I tried to narrow down direct and indirect competitors and then did a decision matrix to finalize top 5 competitors. I also did a heuristic bench marking comparison of the top 5 competitor User Interfaces to come up with a logical scoring. This gave an understanding of market and how the new product needs to be positioned and compared. For security reasons, I have not included analysis of the following

  1. E commerce competitors in the middle east.
  2. Best user interface and user friendly applications or websites in the middle east.

Competition Maps: Geography and verticals overview

Competitive Analysis

From the analysis, I had made 5 user personas with Customer Journey Mapping all the primary, secondary and tertiary personas. You might want to check on how to create a Journey map from one of my previous posts?

The application interfaces with two distinct user groups the shoppers and the shop keepers of the brick and motor stores.

The shopper personas were created based on the identified classification of primary user groups under shoppers. I have not listed the shop keeper personas below as the point of this article to enlist the process followed.

Focused Consumers

Focused Consumers know what they are looking for and they visit/call a brick and motor store to order/buy what they already have in mind. They expect items to be kept at the most accessible area in the store for a quick billing and less crowd at the counters. Most big super markets have separate ques for items less than 10.

The same logic can be applied when focused consumers visit the website. By enabling easy and quick find ability we will be able to enable them.

A sample scenario would be, after office hours, a working parent looking to buy some craft materials for his/her child’s school assignment due next day.

Researchers expect

They usually come to the site or visit a store to search and compare. They observe all the product options available in the store or site. They are very potential users who buy from the site/store over a short period of time after they have collected all the necessary information. The products that they look for are usually extremes in one or more categories like price, availability, new arrival etc.

A scenario for this could be a consumer trying to check or compare on a particular model of a laptop before the buying decision is made.


They are window shoppers and they don’t usually know what they are looking for. They buy if the offer is irresistible. They are always looking to spend time at the stores and malls.

A scenario for this could be a bachelor who have recently relocated to the locality and are trying to explore options during weekends.

One time visitors

They are quite similar to focused consumers but they have one time need. Most of the time their needs are last minute shopping for others. They usually are not very familiar with the store and they just want to get what they want quickly and go on.

A scenario for this could be a women trying to buy some last minute gifts for a party at a locality he doesn’t live. May be she is trying to buy on the way to the party.

Shopper ecommerce ux personas

The Solution

By connecting the business systems (point of sale systems etc.) of local shops and local consumer communities through a multi channel e-commerce platform, both customers and brick-and-motor shops have mutual benefits.

Since I wanted to capture the problem briefly, to do elevator pitches with a few potential seed investors, I created a product video

Value Proposition

A powerful online eCommerce solution that connects local consumer communities to local shops / service providers for every day needs.

Business Model

New E commerce Business Model

I had a lot of questions from potential investors that What’s the difference between this and what Amazon does?

The difference is in the turnaround time from days to hours as most of the miscellaneous consumer purchases are required immediately. Since the brick & motor stores are quite close, they will be able to stock and deliver quickly thereby building a local community of brick & motor stores.

Wire frames & User Interface

Grocery online ordering app ecommerce application Home Screen POS home page

I don’t have any impact to be stated as this was a concept I bootstrapped by setting up a small development team in India for close to a year and failed 🙂


An Entrepreneurial and design based first principle thinking approach is the key to solving problems. When I look back at the problem and the solution, yes it was a great journey but want went wrong was the execution and fight to consistently innovate by focusing on one segment at a time. Firstly, staying creative and empathize your users. Secondly, solving problems evidently without subjectively driving towards the solution.

And don’t think big, eat small!