1/8 The brief
Who is ReturnRunners?
ReturnRunners (RR) is a Chicago based startup tackling the reverse logistics market through a white-glove service that returns customer’s retail items for a refund on their behalf. They aim to provide a convenient service that eliminates the hassles of returning items to stores, freeing up time for their busy and affluent target audience.
ReturnRunners pride themselves on their white-glove service built on personal relationships and a great customer experience. As a small company, most of the staff, including founder Fara Alexander, participate in runs — but they aspire to hire third-party runners (à la Uber) to do the heavy lifting. During our kickoff meeting we learned about RR's future ambitions. They wanted to grow the business to an on-demand service, increase RR's value proposition through data collection, and collect logistics metrics to sustain their business in the future.
What they wanted from us
RR asked us to build a runners platform to sustain a potential workload increase of up to 200 orders per week due to a future partnership. With no system in place for runners, they believed this to be their next step.
2/8 Exploring our options
After the kickoff meeting, we looked to understand the runner’s process and determine if RR’s initial assumptions and insistence on a runners platform were valid. I felt this opportunity lent itself to a contextual inquiry, and asked Fara if we could shadow her on a run.
Fara excitedly responded - “What are you doing in about 20 minutes!?”
With the goal of uncovering opportunities for improving the runner’s journey and getting to know our client better, Mac and I shadowed Fara and her associate, Sammy, on a run. Upon entering Fara’s car, I immediately began documenting the experience. From my questions and observations, I learned to empathize with the runner’s needs and gained insight to further focus our research.
What I observed from my experience
What I learned from the experience
RR's current process is cumbersome and would be impossible to sustain as they grew, but RR’s reluctance to make customers provide more information during orders caps the efficiency of runners.
Who we spoke to
What we heard
From our interviews, we determined RR would need to have a consistent ordering process to make runners more efficient and establish a spoke-and-hub logistics model before growing into an on-demand service.
Prompted by what we learned from our logistics SMEs, we researched ways to help RR scale their service sustainably. Our objectives were to determine how to consider scalability, sustainability and the two-sided marketplace business model.
Our solution needed to focus on the runners in order help RR scale in a sustainable way by balancing the two-sided market, growing a network, and collecting data.
With the newly gathered insights from our interviews, we developed a runner’s journey map alongside Fara. This exercise provided us the opportunity to clarify anything we missed during the contextual inquiry and find opportunities to gain data to improve RR’s efficiency — all while keeping the client engaged in our process.
We validated the choice to help runners in order to create a seamless customer experience that would elevate RR’s brand. Next, we focused our efforts on designing a solution that helped RR scale in a sustainable way — by helping the runner perform their job better.
3/8 Focusing our efforts
With a better understanding of our approach, we determined that RR's problem was larger than just the need for a runners platform. Our problem statement and design principles were developed to help us focus on the runners while still helping us consider RR's business needs.
Service-minded runners need a digital tool that will aid in collecting, collating, and organizing the information they need, so they can confidently make informed decisions on-the-spot to provide excellent and personal service. This ensures a mutually beneficial relationship between runners, customers, and retailers.
Before using our design principles to start concepts, we used our research to develop a more in-depth road map to align with the client and clarify our concept intentions.
RR is currently practicing a point-to-point model (Phase 1) and ultimately wants to partner with a company (Phase 4) that can do the heavy lifting of returning so they can focus on pick ups, which can be done by 3rd party hires. Our road map expands upon RR’s and provides requirements for each step.
To get them to that point, we determined we would need to provide them with a runners platform and process to reach phase 2 in a sustainable way.
4/8 Testing what ideas stick
We began developing concepts that would make runners effective at their job so RR could sustain themselves until they established a spoke-and-hub model. Before putting pencil to paper, we analyzed companies that had succeeded with a two-sided model. Approaching competitive analysis at this point in the process allowed us to target our specific needs— resulting in quick, but purposeful insight.
Sketch ‘til it works
We sketched and tested concepts on paper to quickly gauge the desirability of our ideas with 3 runners. We focused our concepts on discerning the level of automation appropriate for the pick up and return process.
After each pick up, the runner rates the customer and provides additional customer data for future use by ReturnRunners.
The runner is provided with an itinerary and map, as set up by a “dispatcher.” This tool helps the runner provide the white-glove service by enabling them to be the interface for the customer.
The runner is provided with a simple checklist to mark the condition of an item during the pick up process. This checklist helps prevent declined returns at stores.
Runners are able to switch between picking up or dropping off returns. This gives ReturnRunners flexibility in their return process as they scale.
What ideas worked
What ideas didn't work
What we learned from testing
Our attempts to gain data in the field were rejected and we came back to the same issue as before: we needed to gather info from the ordering process to provide runners with enough information to increase their efficiency.
5/8 The other half of the equation
The relevance of our concepts and proposed interactions depended on the information provided by users during the ordering process. Before continuing on to mid-fidelity prototyping, we needed to make sure our ask of the customer was viable. On a Saturday afternoon, the team went to a Chicago mall and interviewed 19 participants from various backgrounds in order gain a diverse understanding of the general public’s mental models for returns.
Our interview results
Now understanding that the information we needed from customers was reasonable, we were confident our solution was viable as long as RR invested time in developing the customer journey in the future.
7/8 Our solution
Our team create a mobile platform that carries the mental load for the runners, so they can focus on providing a reliable customer centric service.
The checklist process (shown below) allows runners to keep track of the items they’re picking up, while being simple enough to no affect the customer's experience.
8/8 Future recommendations
Phase 1: Current state
For RR to succeed as a two-sided market, they would need to invest more time into their customers. We suggested further development and testing of the ordering process to make the customer experience more enjoyable. The data collection from this process, whether through a native app or website, needed to be consistent. Below, I designed an order flow concept for RR that used a picture of a receipt to fill out most of the needed information.
Phase 2: Spoke-and-hub
When RR implements the spoke-and-hub model, runners would no longer return items directly to the store, but to a central hub. We suggested RR implement a tagging and tracking system to reduce item loss. This phase also provides RR the opportunity to find other ways to collect data that could increase their value proposition in the future.
Phase 3: On-demand
Once RR reaches a larger audience through this phase, the team suggested considering different pricing models. From our guerrilla interviews, pricing for the service was a concern for some participants. In general, individuals want a net positive from returns, so more interviews would be necessary to understand a viable pricing option for a wider audience.
The process of developing both an app and strategy to ensure RR’ success in the future was extremely rewarding. Considering the business needs of our client was a difficult challenge, but I’m fortunate to have had it. Prior to working with RR, my projects leaned more towards understanding the user. This project required a healthy consideration of both the user and product viability.
What made the process even more rewarding, was our interaction with the client. I was able to think of the client as a part of the team and enjoyed keeping them engaged in our work. This experience gave me more confidence to speak and work alongside clients.
I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a such a passionate client and be able to provide solid work that went beyond their expectations. They were even nice enough to send the team gifts to express their appreciation for our hard work. Success!