Designing Solutions for a Happier Purchase Process

Designing Solutions for a Happier Purchase Process


The objective was to provide a retailer with actionable recommendations for ways to improve upon a typical consumer’s cell phone buying process. Leveraging Vital Findings’ strengths in research and design, team members began this project with an immersive shopping experience, followed by a mixture of focus groups, ethnographies, and in-depth interviews with consumers, salespeople, store managers, and store owners. Vital Findings prototyped, tested, and delivered design solutions and a set of actionable recommendations for improving consumers' purchase experience. The ability to analyze problems and devise solutions simultaneously was critical to accomplishing these results quickly and thoroughly. Vital Findings’ ability to integrate research and design seamlessly applies to a variety of projects that require a fast turnaround time.


Buying a new cell phone can be an exhilarating, but also frustrating, experience for consumers. The excitement of owning a new device is often tempered by the annoyance of not understanding how to import contacts, send text messages, or browse the web.

To get a better understanding of a typical consumer’s interaction with a new phone and to identify opportunities to improve the purchase experience, the client turned to Vital Findings for help conducting research. There were a series of questions to be answered by the research: How much of the process of setting up a new phone occurs in store versus at home? Who are a consumer's key advisors – store salespeople, Internet research? What are some best practices that address common pain points in the process?

Tapping into the firm’s two core competencies, Vital Findings' research team would interview consumers to understand and quantify consumer needs and frustrations, and the design team would prototype packaging design and purchase process solutions based on the research to make the purchase and activation of a new cell phone a superior experience.


Vital Findings jumped into the project by taking a walk in the shoes of the consumer: the internal team went into the field to shop for and buy phones. This gave the Vital Findings designers and researchers a quick and immersive look at what the typical consumer experiences. Such first-hand experience with the process provided inspiration for research questions and initiated brainstorming of potential improvements to the process right out of the gate.

Next, Vital Findings conducted a large number of online ethnographies with consumers nationwide who were in the market for a new phone. In these digital ethnos, consumers shared diaries, videos, and photos of their phone research and shopping process. From this sample, the research team went along to observe the actual purchase with a smaller sample of select participants. After buying their phone, all consumers in the study were asked to create an “unboxing” video so that the team could learn from and share the excitement and confusion that accompanies unwrapping a new phone.

With an understanding that buying a phone involves additional stakeholders beyond the consumer, the team also reached out to salespeople, store managers, and store owners. Vital Findings conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews with salespeople and cell phone store managers to understand the challenges that accompany the current sales process as well as examples of best practices in the field. These conversations were instrumental in inspiring design recommendations. Furthermore, a key insight was that recommendations to improve the cell phone sales process were only as good as the sales force’s willingness to adopt them.

Critical to the quality of this study’s findings was Vital Findings ability to work iteratively to develop prototyped solutions to the most relevant user complaints uncovered during research. Based on the team's personal immersions and the initial results from the digital ethnos, Vital Findings created physical prototypes of packaging and display solutions using foam core, and these mockups were presented to study participants during the in-person shop-alongs and focus groups for their reactions. Integrating feedback from consumers and salespeople, the team continued to tweak the prototypes to have polished recommendations by the conclusion of the project.


Vital Findings’ design-centric process helped to identify areas for improvement and create actionable solutions and recommendations. The firm’s cross-disciplinary skill set was engaged to provide the client with a holistic look at the consumer experience. One final deliverable for this project was a professionally edited video montage that employed consumers’ words and images to tell an impactful, compelling story. Additionally, the design team generated a list of actionable recommendations for improving that experience, which were visualized as physical prototypes that incorporated feedback from consumers and sales people.

Notable was that Vital Findings did all of this work in-house and on an extremely tight timeframe. The research and design teams’ ability to explore problems and solutions together was critical to accomplishing the goal in only four weeks. By having team members themselves experience the shopping process, the team was able to to bring prototyped solutions into interviews with consumers and the sales side, saving time and extracting maximum value from those conversations.


Vital Findings’ ability to integrate research and design seamlessly applies to a variety of projects where understanding the consumer experience with a product is as important as designing a solution, or where timing requires both research and design to be done simultaneously.

Here are a few examples:

  • How can I visualize my customer's purchase process to identify needs and opportunities for improvement?
  • How can I help my customer service reps to empathize with consumers and appreciate their pain points?
  • My research tells me what consumers want in my product, but how can I understand how that changes once they become shoppers and enter the retail environment?
  • Customers have been suggesting I redesign my packaging. How much attention should I pay to aesthetics vs. the "unboxing" user experience?


  • Digital ethnography
  • Shop-alongs
  • Focus Groups
  • Prototyping
  • Executive Interviews
  • Immersion
  • Business-to-business
  • Shopper Insights

Innovative Methods

“Walking in the Customer’s Shoes”:
The Vital Findings team kicked off this project by shopping for phones themselves; a quick, simple way to understand the consumer experience, which generated inspiration for the study’s questions and initiated development of prototyped solutions.

A Holistic Approach:
With the insight that a consumer’s experience buying a phone is impacted by other stakeholders in the process, Vital Findings interviewed salespeople, store managers, and store owners. From these interviews, the team knew that recommendations to improve the process were only as good as the sales force’s willingness to adopt them.

Iterative prototyping:
Vital Findings developed design solutions based on consumer input, mocked up as prototypes, and then refined them. The prototypes allowed users to envision what a solution might look like and provide feedback on the direction of the concept prior to the final design. Vital Findings embraces this interactive prototyping process because it ensures user-relevant and refined concepts.

Simultaneous Research + Design:
With time of the essence (the project entire project was conducted in 6 weeks), Vital Findings was able to begin brainstorming and mocking up possible improvements to the process immediately, so the team was able to bring prototyped solutions to focus groups, saving time and maximizing those conversations.

Results Visually Realized:
Vital Findings’ research culminated in a professionally-edited video that used consumers’ own words and images to illustrate the results of the study for the client, as well as in physical prototypes of a new packaging concept and product manual. This visual format made it easy for the client to share and evangelize these findings internally.