Tripled online applicants for an early education publisher by overhauling the e-commerce site

Client: Benesse Corporation (a large publisher of pre-school education materials)
Time: March – May 2013

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


  • As the cost associated with human resources rise in China, Benesse decided they no longer wanted to rely on call centers as a major selling channel. They needed a full revision of their website with the aim of increasing sales volume and decreasing their reliance on the call center.

  • The existing website was essentially nothing more than a signboard, on which every department was hoping to put their campaigns and promotional banners. There was no clear direction or plan in how to manage the website. The digital team had failed to make the site useful to potential customers.


  • The redesign was done based on end users’ needs rather than the division’s initial opinions. The target customers were redefined, based on our finding that there were two key user segments, with fundamental differences in their decision making processes. I then documented their journeys, identified the needs and pain points within their respective processes, and made sure the new website addressed these needs.

  • To ensure this redesign reflected real customer needs, and that each department had a mutual understanding of the direction of the redesign, we planned and executed the following initiatives:

    1.  Stakeholder interviews – I interviewed the sales department in the Benesse call center to discern their tactics for customer acquisition. I also interviewed stakeholders in each relevant division to understand their needs and concerns toward the corporate website.

    2.  Three rounds of user research in Shanghai – the first round was to understand the current sales situation, and the needs of target users. The second was to verify my hypotheses and strategies based on our findings from the first round.  In the third round I conducted usability tests of our new website. Clients were invited to observe each round of the user research.

    3.  Internal workshops – using the results of our user research, I held three group workshops with clients to discuss better ways of acquiring more target customers, and increasing their product orders.



I led the project as the main consultant, and conducted user research, alongside another UX consultant from our headquarters in Japan, and a manager.


  • We delivered a prototype website with brand new content and structure, to deal with the main issues; that users were not familiar with client’s products, and hesitated to buy due to several misunderstandings.

  • Post-launch, the number of online applications for the sample product was increased by a multiple of three (original conversion rate: 0.8%, 9267 unique users converted per month), which reduced Benesse’s dependency on the call center.

  • Client’s web team acquired the ability to plan and revise the website based on a user-centric approach, which enabled them to prioritize requests from other departments and more intelligently make decisions when operating the site. In addition, each division now works toward a shared set of KPIs based on what is best for users.

  • Due to the success of this venture, I gained trust from the client and converted into retainer relationship.

A brief introduction of how I redesigned content strategy of the website

To learn more about the users, I conducted several phone interviews, client interviews and desktop research to form hypotheses before flying to Shanghai for three rounds of one-on-one user observations and interviews.

user test in chinaThe user test set up in Shanghai, China.

One thing I tried to understand was the complete journey of how user interacted with the client’s website. After few rounds of user research, I was able to identify the key pieces of information needed by users to move them through each step of the conversion funnel. This enabled me to create the overall web content strategy.


Below is a brief and partial explanation of the research findings and the resulting design implications.

First of all, users, mostly mothers with babies, cared very much about the suitable age range for a given product. They were only interested the products that were specifically targeted to their child’s age group.

Next, I found that users had a key misunderstanding; they thought DVDs were the main product offered by our client, because there were so many pirated copied of their DVDs in the market. However, the client’s product was actually a box of toys and books, supplemented by CDs and DVDs. It’s just that books and toys were harder to copy.

Fake products are everywhere when users search with client’s name in the major E-commerce site in China

The real product is a package of toys, books and DVDs.

Mothers rarely had the opportunity to address this misunderstanding, as many saw DVDs as being unsuitable for young children, thus they avoided the product altogether. However, I found that once mothers realized the range of products available, their motivation to buy increased.

In response to the two findings above, I re-designed the homepage to direct incoming users first according to their child’s age. The re-designed website then displayed the variety of the products available in that category, alongside explanations of how they can be used to enhance the learning.

QH_dividingThe new website allowed users to choose their child’s age upon entering the site, and provide only relevant content thereafter.

QH_compareThe education topics mothers care about differed greatly depending on their child’s age. For children between 13-24 months of age , mothers want products that will help children acquire good habits (left side). For children between 6-7 years old, mothers want to know that the materials will help their children acquire useful skills and knowledge (right side). 

I also learned from the user research that after mothers’ concerns were addressed, they started to think rationally about the product. I identified some common questions mothers often had, which we addressed on the new website. These included: Why is this product the best way to help my child learn? Are the toys safe and high quality? Is the product designed by early education professionals?

QH_safetyProduct safety explanations to remove mothers’ concerns. The toy will not cause harm even if the child puts it into their mouth. And a toy’s size is carefully considered so that children cannot swallow it by accident.

After the project

We gained significant trust from the client by tripling the online application amount (their main KPI) two months after the new website was launched.

To keep the performance of the website, and to continue optimizing, I directed client’s digital team to conduct on going A/B tests, to improve decision-making around more granular elements, such as layout and images.

This successful completion of this project led to further engagements, including projects related to customer loyalty, customer experience management, and internal training for their digital team. I was pleased to be asked by the client to remain closely involved throughout the relationship.

Other Projects