T004 - The Pakistani "E-Commerce" User Experience

Why technology becomes a bottleneck for Daraz and Cheetay to achieve great UX? Exploring where the gap is, how product backlog and systems thinking is the solution and what is the community's role.

I took some time with this thought piece as I was catching up on unread books and visiting family at home in Pakistan. The break from writing has been healing and chalk full of learning where I am grateful to recent virtual connections made in the process. There is shared positive sentiment about progression in the e-commerce space that will continue to take place as the community takes accountability of measurements proposed by policy makers and advocates of tech.

Shopping online in Pakistan is an interesting experience to say the least. Often I scroll through social media to find angsty consumers rant about how they received a broken piece of electronic or a wrong piece of clothing. Not so long ago, a young vlogger did an unboxing video of a drone that he ordered from Daraz only that the box was empty. The video became a meme and Daraz frantically had to undo the “fraud” through an orchestrated display of customer care.

There is a shadow of doubt cast over mainstream e-commerce services that include the likes of Daraz, Cheetay and Foodpanda. Even if online business volumes have gone up by 78.9% as a result of COVID-19 according to a recent SBP report, encouraging Pakistani users to embrace online shopping remains a hard problem to solve with reasons tied to:

  • Lack of trust towards digital payments

  • Delayed shipments

  • Sub-par quality of products

  • Unsatisfactory customer service

PriceOye; a leading price comparison site in Pakistan, carried out a study where the firm recorded negative Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for most major e-commerce platforms, indicating that users are not happy with the online shopping experience. A classic example of what happens when digital services are built out of hype rather than thorough market research which damaged the startup community in its early stage.

This hype is directly linked to the rise of upstarts such as Uber, Doordash, Instacart that normalized the concept of trust-economy, granting people the ability to earn money, running semi-formal businesses by interacting with users who are complete strangers! The mentioned companies grew exponentially fast, raising capital and building up a valuation that broke records previously held by dot-com era enterprises.

The trust economy and the idea of “Blitzscaling” businesses at superfast speed brought a new energy in Silicon Valley which spread East, snowballing intoAsia where new wave of founders wanted to make an impact in local markets. India used the momentum exceptionally well since they built a solid foundation for the E-Commerce space to bloom. However, for Pakistan there were problems.

The ecosystem that E-Commerce players had to operate on was replete with barriers of socio-economic, political and legal nature. From 2010-2018, the environment was not really made with high digital tolerance in mind, the very reason why Paypal and Amazon failed to open shop in the country. (Note: Here I am not taking social media applications into account which have their own set of regulatory problems occurring)

The generational gap between members making up the startup ecosystem and policymakers serving in government spaces is one problem. People in state institutes have the regulatory power to arbitrate what policies get approved and ones which do not. Innovators and changemakers submit reforms to state officials to push for a more conducive environment for digital mediums but often get ignored that they never get implemented. I have articulated about the tussle between the two groups in this post.

Then there is the ‘User Experience (UX)’ problem, which starts from leadership positions and trickles down to designers and engineers who have to manage and fine tune the app with whatever limited information that gets communicated. The UX gets less attention which creates the experience gap between the technology and the user. As a direct effect, businesses get bombarded with complaints of which some become public news, truly an unpleasant experience for founders.

Describing the Experience gap?

The word experience can be described through an analogy. Let’s take the action of brewing coffee as an example, which I am sure many of us consider this as a mundane task. From the point you get up to retrieve a cup, to the steps involved in brewing the coffee to finally sipping it.

The whole process is an experience. One faulty interaction, the experience can go south very quickly.

Using the coffee brewing analogy, the goal is to minimize friction between the user and the product and its highly dependent upon how product teams build the User Interface or UI. As a pre-req, its important to keep in mind the complete user journey. From the point the user opens the app, to getting the notification of a successful checkout to finally receiving the package.

We will explore the UX side first and shift to what online marketplaces can do to elevate their services in the long term.

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What Cheetay gets wrong?

Cheetay is an app that does food delivery in Pakistan. Since 2018, it has expanded itself to deliver other consumable items such as medicine and grocery items. It follows the Doordash business model, except that the riders who deliver the items work for the company.

The points take inspiration from a super resourceful design case study composed by Usama Waheed, a colleague from college and a UX wizard where he debunks whether Cheetay is really, really easy to use as they claim it to be:

  • The onboarding process is intrusive. Before even getting to the home page, the app prompts the user to give location access to display food options in the vicinity. The app follows up by asking the user to allow notifications; that too, before getting served any content.

  • Discoverability of built-in features blocks users in getting the full experience of the app. When browsing, a user can explore more food options by swiping horizontally. This is easy very easy to miss because the options are barely visible on the mobile screen.

  • There are unique looking icons in arbitrary locations in the app that do not clearly indicate what they do. Users waste time trying to guess the purpose of the icons.

  • System messages are not evident on key areas of the food delivery process. These should be clear cut and provide immediate feedback to users in the case something went wrong with the order or signal that the rider is about to arrive.

Notifications are justified only when users are frequent users of the app or spend more time on it. That means, asking to enable notifications can come later in the process.

What Daraz gets wrong?

Daraz is a multi-purpose e-commerce website that is headquartered in Karachi, and was founded in. Considered the Amazon of Pakistan, the app has done well in building a sizeable user base.

When Ali Baba revealed its plan to acquire Daraz in 2018, advocates of Pakistan tech were bullish of an upcoming transformation in the E-Commerce space. The belief was that the company will effectively utilize their new found capital combined with new technology to build a satisfying experience for its users. Meaning usage of digital wallets and credit card usage will be made easier. However, the UX has not made significantly improvements since then as there are certain harrowing issues:

  • Getting a delivery estimate is time consuming. It involves going down the rabbit hole of multiple clicks and keystrokes to input the province, city and area to find the shipping location. The same information can be retrieved by simplifying the process by just asking for the “city”. Apps like Uber do well in minimizing the number of taps required to reach from point A to point B.

  • Daraz does not have a perfect recommendation system. During the checkout process, the site positions itself to upsell items that complement the ones in the cart. However, the app has not implemented this feature correctly, and tends to provide irrelevant listings. Best Buy and Amazon are great examples of how they fine tuned product bundling to a tee.

  • Icons design changes upon scrolling down. This breaks the rule of consistency and from a UX standpoint can confuse users even if its not the most important part of the website.

  • The landing pages tend to overload users with irrelevant in the product pages and it breaks the rule in UX called Hick’s Law. The law states that the time users take to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. Providing fewer and more improved suggestions will boost user experience given its implemented right.


Though these apps have issues related to UX, the two enterprises can incorporate the following best practices to make sure that technology itself does not become a choking point for consumers to achieve consumer delight through the apps.

1. Backlog > New Innovation

An article published in HBR’s annual Year in Tech 2021 poignantly states:

Given constraints on the budget and the hiring of tech experts, the results are often disastrous when retail executives add project to a to-do list. Delays ripple across the backlog.

They also state that the value to the consumer is far greater than the cost of innovation but in the case of E-Commerce giants like Cheetay, Daraz and Foodpanda, the budget is available but the technology stack is a massive bottleneck. In the case of product teams, addressing the ever-increasing needs of the user does not necessarily have to mean starting more micro projects.

Take steps to prioritize the existing backlog rather than investing in new innovation projects.

This can be linked to what Daniel Kahneman describes as Duration Neglect in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. The observations is that people tend to remember experiences based on how enjoyable or unpleasant it was where time is not a dependent factor. If someone goes to a 5-star restaurant and there is a wait time of 1 hour, it does not matter if there was a long wait, only as long as the food tasted out of this world which makes it worthwhile!

Now, contextualizing this in our product management scenario mentioned earlier. With this hypothesis, teams should strictly focus on the 2-3 main features of the system that are critical to providing client satisfaction while cutting out new tasks for one sprint.

2. Integrating Systems Thinking

Many founders are familiar with the term Human-Centered design, which encourages designing products by a bottoms-up approach, focusing on people’s everyday thinking, feelings, and behavior. This methodology allows teams to not lose focus of the problem they are solving for.

In Pakistan, enterprises have taken steps to adopt this approach and are now able to ship new features much faster. However, what often becomes the reason of disappointment among users; as Don Norman claims, is rooted in the lack of understanding of designing effective means to interact.

Here the concept of Systems Thinking is relevant, a topic worth exploring to understand how inter-connectedness things are in this world. Whether its recognizing the complex operations running within Amazon’s fulfillment centers, the captivating storyline of a Christopher Nolan movie, or the even Apple’s next generation M1 computer processor, they can be labelled as systems.

Speaking of Apple’s M1, the slide below is one way to truly appreciate systems thinking and how it has enabled engineers to go from the ARM1 to the M1 in a matter of 35 years.

Zooming in, the chip has several small yet essential components such as the Arithmetic logical unit (ALU), registers, memory unit and decoders that perform a specific operation, enabling other components to function effectively like a well oiled machine.

Zooming out, there are bigger components or ‘sub-systems’ such as the RAM, the GPU, audio connectors that collectively form the CPU. For each to function correctly means other parts should work well as expected.

In the context of Cheetay, Daraz.pk and Foodpanda, for the apps to function well, the user experience should flow systematically through each stage of the purchasing process. That means analyzing the complete user journey end to end and figuring out the gaps then fixing them.

3. Listening to the community of users

The final and I believe the most obvious requirement for a business is to hear what their community of users feel about the product. Whether it involves reading their reviews, talking to them on a customer service call the point is to act on the problem points.

I wanted to get a general idea about what people felt about the Foodpanda app and was able to gather quick feedback through Instagram. There were mixed opinions about how it works but the point is that its very easy to engage people on how a service can be potentially improved.

2020 has been a year where building communities has become almost a necessity to make impact more significant whether it is by encouraging a change in policy or outright disrupt an existing market. Having a dedicated community goes towards competitiveness in the market as they:

  • Acquire new members who would be willing to try the product

  • Create a sense of connectedness that goes towards user retention

  • Support other members, that brings down cost of customer service.

Salesforce is a prime example of how they have enabled 2 million members to organize events, produce content, support other members to understand their products. Building a community of dedicated users is important for Salesforce to advance its global operations. Another unique example is of Harley Davidson that has 1400 local chapters for enthusiasts to get together in person and discuss their bikes.

Communications apps are so accessible these days that anyone can create an account for free and set up the stage for community building and online advocacy. Daraz, Cheetay may have Facebook groups but they are usually filled with complaints and negative vibes about the orders but if they become more community-driven then they would be able to improve their services significantly.

Conclusion:

Paul Graham of Y Combinator stated that founders should make something what people want but he also further says to ask what their group of users are thinking about the product, whether it is in a crude or refined state.

It also helps to revisit Amazon’s mission statement:

We aim to be Earth’s most customer centric company. Our mission is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximize their success.

Although nobody can beat Amazon in their game but one can try to emulate their drive to helping consumers find what they need in the marketplace.

What Cheetay, Daraz and other online channels need is to prioritize improving their existing feature over new innovations, integrate Systems Thinking in their build process and actively engage the community to help shape the overall user experience for its consumers.

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