Research on printer purchasing behavior in 5 countries to define client’s website policy and future strategy in Asia-Pacific

Client: Brother Industries, Ltd. (a global printer manufacturer headquartered in Japan)        
Time: April – August 2014   

* The project is subject to a NDA. Only limited information is presented here.


Challenge

  • It had been 5 years since Brother’s Asia Pacific (AP) sites’ latest redesign. They needed to make a significant move forward toward a next generation internet marketing platform, which would respond to the latest internet trends and consumer behaviors across 15 AP countries.

  • The client needed us to define the new direction of their digital strategy, with a focus toward keeping their web platform up to date, en vogue, and performance-conscious through 2020. There were 17 regional versions of the website in total.


My Role

I took charge of communication with the client’s international business units. I planned and conducted user research, strategic marketing, and drove the building of prototypes. I shared leadership of the project with a Japanese consultant, assisted by a manager, and two part-time analysts.

I also worked closely with user recruiting partners in Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Dubai, New Zealand and Thailand, to monitor test scheduling and user criteria.


Main research questions

  • What are the Internet usage and printer purchasing norms in Asia Pacific (Hong Kong, Thailand, India, UAE, and New Zealand in particular)
  • What is the role of client’s website?
  • How do people utilize web and mobile platforms to make printer purchasing decisions?
  • What should the digital strategy be through to 2020?

Approach

The project team and I decided to take a three-pronged approach to defining the role and necessary elements of the new Brother sites.

  1. User needs: We chose five representative countries with the highest sales growth potential, and conducted in-depth customer user observations and field visits to local dealer locations, in order to understand local customers’ behaviors and needs when purchasing the client’s products.

  2. Business needs: I interviewed regional CEOs and marketing teams at local Brother’s branches to understand the current state of their web marketing, and their future plans.

  3. Environment changes: I interviewed potential customers in 15 AP countries by phone, analyzed website traffic data, evaluated device usage, and determined local internet environments and usage trends.

Process of this 4 months’ project

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Primary research: Went to different kinds of electronic appliance shops to observe how people buy things and how do they use smart phones to support purchase.

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primary_research

Secondary research: Support the qualitative user research with quantitative data.

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Primary research: The user test set up in client’s meeting room in New Zealand.

Primary research: The equipment

User research equipment User research equipment

Prototypes for the primary research: I conducted one on one in-depth observation and interview to understand how users use internet, including client’s website, to make buying decision. The main focus of the second round’s research was to test the prototypes. Below are some prototype pages I made with PowerPoint and Axure, based on my assumptions, user inputs from the first round of research, and heuristic review of the old site.

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Mobile prototype by Axure: http://share.axure.com/QTSRKS
Password: bebit123

iPhone-5-three-quarter-perspective-Mockup


An example of the research findings and design implementation

I found that it is difficult for users, especially those in India and Hong Kong, to purchase ink cartridges that are both genuine and the right type for their printers.

Brother_findings

As such, we proposed a way that could make it easier for users to find genuine ink and cartridges. When the ink is running low, a pop-up window appears for users to order the right kind of ink from either the client’s official website or other e-commence sites. For countries where e-commerce infrastructure has not matured, such as the United Arab Emirates, we show them the physical stores to get genuine ink.

Brother_soultion

Clients liked this idea a lot, however, implementation would take them a long time. Therefore, I came up with a temporary alternative solution that could be used immediately. I added a section to the product page, following the product description and purchase options, to educate users in the importance of using genuine ink.

In my user research, I identified several common questions and misunderstandings users have about ink. These were usually the reasons that stopped them from buying genuine consumables. For example, “are original consumables usually more expensive?”, “can I really not buy third-party refill for the toner? I heard the printing quality would be the same as a branded replacement”, or “using a third-party’s cartridges a few times does not hurt, right?”. In the webpage I answered these concerns with simple Q&As and images, making it easy for users to skim through and absorb the important messages.

Brother_QA


Result

  • Clearly defined the function and role of Brother’s AP websites through 2020, by developing a central website template as well as regional-specific content and strategy adaptations.

  • Developed detailed guidelines for which elements of the new design could be used across all AP sites, and which must be customized for local markets. This was achieved partially by categorizing the customer needs of 15 countries into several common patterns.

  • Delivered 60-pages’ wireframes for the new browser and smartphone sites, with responsive layouts.

I improved the IA (Information Architecture) – Emphasize the main product, printer. Make Ink & Toner and independent navigation item under product, not only to let user find easily, but also increase its visibility for the chance to increase sales. 
brother-navi

I provided detail explanations about how the pages work based on customer journey and their needs in the prototype deliverable. Also communicated the design intentions to visual designers.

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Impact

1. Gathered user insights to help the client make business decisions

Research trips to different counties allowed us to garner insights unique to each individual market. Encouraging staff from the client’s headquarters to join enabled us to generate greater buy-in for our recommendations.

2. Aligned and united local offices

Local offices felt their needs and concerns were heard. They were more willing to follow the strategy set by their headquarters.

3. Highlighted the importance of user research within the company

The General Manager of the New Zealand office joined the user research and was highly satisfied. He encouraged other countries to do user tests as well in their yearly reginal meeting.


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