User Research at Instacart

Updated: Jan 3

Written by: Larry Goodfellow


Smarter Decisions

In a recent article entitled User Research at Instacart the author Dave Hora looks at the power of targeted research. For those who don’t know, Instacart is an Internet-based grocery delivery service that promises to deliver your groceries within an hour. They deliver from Costco, Whole Foods, Target and more. The company is valued at close to 2 billion dollars and in 2015 Forbes magazine named it The Most Promising Company in America. Hora was the Senior User Researcher at Instacart and in his article he examines how targeted research can benefit user experience and design. He states, “If you’re delivering software or services to people, targeted research will make your work better. You’ll make smarter decisions, less unnecessary failures, and form robust strategy earlier in the design process.” We believe this is true, as the clients we provide market research online community software often comment that their decisions are more informed and impactful due to the data collected. In his article Hora breaks down user research, and why it saves money, and how his company Instacart, conducts user research.


So what is user research? According to Hora the core is “asking questions, observing people and interpreting the output. It serves specific goals and doesn’t aim to generate knowledge on its own.” Applied research is asking well-formed questions to help business, customers and partners. This can be expanded down to design research which seeks to answer people’s understanding of life goals and behaviours. This helps to create a picture of your customer and shoppers. Then there is usability research which ensures the testing of your product which can mitigate risk before launching, and highlights weaknesses in your product. While the former two look at specific areas in your company, service research looks at the company overall.  Service research helps make sense of your company as a whole, from “customer, shopper, and operational points of view.” The next is market research which looks at customers responses to certain aspects of service. This looks at attitudes across various demographics and segments.


The Point of Research

What’s the point of research? Hora writes that, “research signals a recognition that we don’t understand everything, and a willingness to identify assumptions and blind spots before addressing them appropriately.” He goes on to explain that research sets the ground work for every good project. It helps build understanding of your users, customers and gives you context of your overall business. To truly understand design, you need to understand the user’s behaviour which can only come through inquiry and observation. This point of Hora’s needs to be highlighted, because we countlessly hear an overabundance of confidence in management teams that seem to know their customer without doing proper research and engagement. This confidence is not built on facts but rather ego which will eventually fail.


A true knowledge and understanding of your customer can only come through repeated inquiry and observation. Without this knowledge you are bound to learn through trial and error which can be costly. With analytics and big data you can see what’s happening but you can never be sure why it is happening the way it is, this is why we believe in qualitative research for online communities. Hora writes, “user research elicits the needs that aren’t met — why did this design fail? Why is an early grocery delivery a painful customer experience? Why might shoppers circumvent a customer’s contact preferences?”


Instacarts 4 Steps for Research

So what is Instacart’s method for research? He breaks it down into four steps:


1. Form good questions

2. Observe, interview people

3. Analyze, synthesize data

4. Apply insights (and if this doesn’t happen, your previous steps are a wash)


While research seems like common sense and the concept of testing, and letting go of preconceived ideas is obvious, you would be surprised how many companies test ideas with customers and still avoid making the necessary changes. Hora concludes his article by saying, “when you have questions or recognize uncertainty, don’t force failure by holding on to assumptions or avoiding the issue. Be smart, and do your research.” The whole point of research is to learn from people as they encounter your product, and try and figure out why they act or react the way they do.


While Instacart’s services are unique, the concept of using research to constantly test services and software with customers is not new. We believe that Insightrix Communities is one of the best ways to continually test ideas and generate constant feedback to help solidify your product. Our reporting tools for online communities helps you to make sense of the data which helps you make informed decisions. 


If you would like to find out more about how our software can help, feel free to contact us.


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