BeautyMakers is currently a web directory of "Made in Canada" beauty brands. As a multi-sided platform, it has been difficult monetizing the 'producer' side without sufficient value being derived from the 'consumer' side. A proven B2C revenue model will lend itself to market validation and also provide for a stronger case to monetize the seller side.
This case study is part 2 of the BeautyMakers series. Some of the content will be repeated here due to the overlapping nature of business and product design. The full case study for part 1 will be available shortly.
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I wouldn't say that I did user research but rather I followed a customer development process as a way to test my hypothesis for a new business model. Since there's an overlap with UX, I'll repost it and I think the whole experience is amusing to read.
For the one-on-one interviews, I read the book Lean Customer Development: Building Products Your Customers Will Buy by Cindy Alvarez and I found it very helpful. I even recommended it to one of my interviewees afterwards.
Finding subjects was hard! Even trying to bribe people with free full-size beauty samples, it took me from July - November 2019 to secure 16 in-person interviews. Time is a currency. Through trial and error, things started to pick up in September. Here's how I got to the point of saturation:
Multiple Failed Attempts at Organizing Focus Groups on Meetup/Eventbrite
There were a few sign ups but only one person showed up so we ended up having a one-on-one discussion about what she considered to be "indie beauty".
Mailchimp Landing Page + Facebook Ad
The Mailchimp landing page was initially created to capture new subscribers. Promoted through a Facebook ad with a conversion objective, and geo-targetting Toronto and Vancouver, I had managed to win over two subscribers. I thought that I might have better luck in getting an active subscriber to talk to me. I was right.
Facebook Lead Ads
Since this type of advertising allows for frictionless user sign ups, I did get a lot of leads this way. I geo-targetted Toronto and captured 73 sign ups. At first glance it seemed as if my CAC was quite low but when I followed up with the leads via email, only 3 responded. In effect the leads were low quality, which made my CAC quite high.
After interviewing one of the Facebook leads, I asked her whether she knew anyone who would be interested in chatting with me. She said that she would email her network, and one expressed interest to me.
There was an icebreaker where everyone stood around in a circle, introduced themselves and articulated their "Ask and Give". Here was mine:
Slack Group: DesignX Canada
I posted on the #_help-and-requests channel since it was free and I was getting tired of pumping money into Facebook ads with virtually no ROI. This worked better than I thought because I got the most interviews out of this. I wish I had screenshotted what I wrote but the post is gone. And yes, all the interviewees were designers, including one UX researcher. Talk about pressure!
I was accepted into an 8-week incubator and interviewed two of my peers.
I interviewed one of my friends from RED Academy. She was the last person that I interviewed and I had already reached saturation at that point, so I didn't learn anything new.
There were also some one-off responses that I thought were interesting:
Though I was able to reach a point of saturation with the interviews, the sample size was still too small and so I wanted to distribute a survey to verify what I learned from the interviews. I posted this on Slack and emailed my (small) network, and I was only able to collect one response. I might have posted it at the wrong time -- late at night -- and by morning it was out of sight as new posts were added. Feel free to complete the survey below or by clicking here.
Young working professional women are looking to practise self-care and incorporate natural beauty products. They struggle to find products that are effective and affordably priced. The solution should incentivize our users to take a chance on local Canadian beauty brands that use high quality ingredients, while alleviating the concern of cost.
The URL was set up as a subdomain on cPanel, since the primary domain already hosts the live BeautyMakers listing directory.
Next, I purchased the WordPress theme Flatsome and uploaded it to cPanel. I chose this theme for the following reasons:
There was another WordPress theme that I was interested in -- Astra Pro -- that also had glowing reviews but one either had to pay an annual fee of $59 USD or lifetime subscription for $249 USD. Since BeautyMakers - Shop was just going to be a business model prototype, I wanted to operate as lean as possible and Flatsome seemed to be the best option.
I referred to the following websites to get some initial ideas:
"As a Canadian female who prefers to shop online for clean beauty, I want to find effective products that are within my price range so that I can feel comfortable in my skin without breaking the bank."
When I prepared the lo-fi wireframe, I had this business proposition mind:
1. VIP Membership + 2. Welcome Beauty Box
Lo-fi wireframe - index page
Right after mocking up the lo-fi wireframe, I immediately headed to putting the design into hi-fi on WordPress.
There was already a style guide for the live BeautyMakers web directory. One of the interviewees loved the existing colour harmony and due to the brevity of time, I decided to keep using the same palette.
He was able to perform all the tasks without any problems but he remarked that the checkout process didn't match up with the business proposition. The way that it was presented looked like a user would be buying a beauty box instead of a membership:
He showed me how Dollar Shave Club and Harry's designed their checkout flow.
Taking the points that my design mentor made, I was ready to modify the UX -- until I shared the update with my business mentor and a group peer (KD). It became a business design problem. They both felt that the beauty box was a more compelling offer. KD had experience selling memberships at a restaurant, and said that it wasn't an easy task and she never felt good about it. As a consumer who subscribed to Ipsy and was familiar with FabFit, she wanted a box of beauty products, first and foremost.
Both angles worked out to be the same financially, so I didn't have a preference for one over the other. I wanted to take the direction that would resonate the most with people (i.e. that would rake in the most sales). I consulted with two entrepreneurial friends (classmates from RED Academy) and they agreed that the emphasis should be placed on the beauty box. They also gave me feedback on the UX. The original checkout design was retained and the index page evolved to look as shown below, consistent with the business proposition of 1. Beauty Box + 2. VIP Membership:
My design mentor wasn't wrong and I had tried to replicate the checkout process to look like FabFit/Harry's/Dollar Shave Club, but Flatsome's out-of-the-box solution didn't come with a wizard design capability, and I didn't want to pay for extra plugins to incorporate it in a prototype.
Alternative checkout user flow: multi-step
I also considered the solution of "force selling" the membership when a user adds a beauty box to their cart. The membership would automatically itemize on the cart page and it would show a cost of $0.00. This could be achieved with WooCommerce's Force Sells plugin, but it would cost $49 USD/year and I wasn't keen on paying extra if this was just going to be a fake checkout. Since the beauty box is the focal point and the membership plays a secondary role, I decided to simply settle for the default for the time-being.
Alternative checkout user flow: force sell a VIP membership when a user adds a beauty box to their cart
The Contact page originally had a contact form but when I tested it, an error message would appear and no emails were delivered to my Office 365 mail.
I spent hours researching, thinking that there was something wrong with the CF7 plugin (already integrated with Flatsome out of the box). I think it's a PHP mail/SMTP issue and there's a mail flow problem between WordPress and Microsoft Exchange. When I try to reset the password in the admin login page, I don't even receive a password reset email. (So I better not lose or forget my login credentials!)
I spent a few days with Microsoft trying to troubleshoot the problem and it got to the point where trying to fix it was more time-consuming than it was worth, especially if this was just a prototype. Though a contact form would be ideal to have, a greater evil is if an error message shows up. If people want to get in touch, they can just send me a message through their email provider.
It could be that this is a subdomain and Exchange currently only recognizes the primary domain.
I experienced the same problem when I used CF7's Horizontal Form to try to collect emails.
The funny thing was that an error notification box would appear but when I go into Mailchimp, the new email was picked up. I decided to just embed Mailchimp's form on the website, but I disliked how the email input field and submit button showed up on two lines. I tried to make the elements inline and again spent hours researching to no avail. I gave up because it was more trouble than it was worth and the UI didn't look bad enough that it would deter people from subscribing.
I was dreading to write this case study, but I have to admit that I ended up having a lot of fun with it.
And what do you think of this colour palette? I'm really digging it for BeautyMakers 2.0!
Last updated: January 10, 2020