How to improve the #eCommerce experience using #JTBD


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Hypothesis: People buy products and services to get a job done and the buyer’s journey is a key component of the customer experience

Let’s begin by setting the core Job-to-be-Done aside for a moment, so we can look at a related consumption chain job. Consumption chain jobs occur once we have selected a solution to our core job. They are where the customer experience lives.

Products have a lifecycle. After a product is purchased (which is a separate job), it must be received, installed and set-up. Then someone has to learn how to use it and interface with it. Someone may also have to transport, clean, store, maintain, upgrade, repair, and dispose of it. While people don’t buy a product so they can clean, repair and dispose of it, a product that simplifies product consumption along one or more of these dimensions could differentiate itself in the marketplace.

Ulwick, Anthony W.. Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice (Kindle Locations 835–838). IDEA BITE PRESS. Kindle Edition.

Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice

eCommerce is a technology that facilitates all or part of the digital purchasing or selling process. Since I work with companies that sell things, it’s easy to forget that there is someone on the “buying” side of the equation. If we focus solely on a business’s needs with regard to “selling” a product, we could very well miss emerging threats as new models (or new competing features) which facilitate the “purchase” of a product, or service, arise.

Finding Differentiation

Recently, a whitepaper was published by Harte Hanks that addressed a question many brick and mortar retailers are asking: “What should we do?” This makes it sound like online retailers have it made. In fact, the study found that when applying an outcome-based approach to segmentation, there were actually opportunities for B-n-M retailers to differentiate from online retailers. At first glance, using traditional segmentation methods, this did not appear to be the case.

While it’s unlikely that traditional B-n-M retailers will mount a substantial threat to online retailers, there are certainly a wide range of experiences to be had even when comparing online retailers within their own category. For example, Zappos has been a popular brand for buying shoes online. It’s not a shoe brand, but a shoe portal, I guess. Or was.

Zappos solved a problem for online retailers: shoe size was challenging to establish. A few ways they differentiated themselves was to eliminate shipping fees (made returning products easier) ,and to establish a call center that was measured on building relationships; not deflecting calls or minimizing call time. They’ve since expanded to clothing — but I’m not sure Amazon has anything to worry about for now.

What they don’t do is help me find the best pair of Buster Brown (a really old brand). Since they don’t carry Buster Brown’s, they aren’t very helpful to someone who is looking for them. We can see half-baked solutions that help us find and compare pricing for Buster Browns (like Google); but they aren’t nearly as good at the remaining steps in the process.


Of course, we can’t ignore Amazon in this discussion. And yes, they sell shoes too. While they started by selling books, they did it online in the early days of the web. Somehow, I have this sneaking suspicion that Jeff Bezos had bigger plans even back then.

Amazon is great at helping me purchase more things during a single visit; or even as a single destination. By purchasing better delivery services (Amazon Prime for example) I also gain access to streaming entertainment (completely different jobs) for free. Oh, and one other thing, all of these other platforms they offer, like AWS, require an eCommerce component as well.

So, given all of these different brands and solutions, how are we to apply a lens to eCommerce that will help us understand how they help customers?

Shoe Buyers

Let’s pretend that I am someone who would like to buy shoes. I want the broadest possible selection to choose from, and don’t want to drive all over town to evaluate them. My situation is not that time-critical and cost is not an issue; but I’d still like a good deal.

Let’s try to solve this problem with a Job Story

Evolved JTBD Job Story Format

I’m looking at this, and I’m having difficulty thinking of features I can build into my eCommerce platform. So, I guess what I should do now is generate a bunch of ideas, build something, and then go test my ideas in the market…tootles!

Just Kidding

Let’s try this again with a little more seriousness. What we are focused on here is the consumption chain job for a core job such as “Purchase Shoes for Work.” Now, I’ve had jobs that required a suit and dress shoes, and also jobs on construction sites that required steel-toed boots. Understanding needs in these contexts would certainly help us design better footwear. But, we’re focusing on the Buyer’s Journey, so lets get on with that then.

We can use a job map similar to the one used with the Harte Hanks diagnostic tool.

By it’s very nature, an eCommerce platform should at least

  • help a customer find information about brands and shoes;
  • help understand the cost, facilitate the selection of a pair, or pairs of shoes,
  • make it known where shoes can be purchased, facilitate transaction,
  • provide visibility into delivery progress, facilitate the payment (if not part of the transaction),
  • and provide a means for returning shoes that don’t fit, or don’t meet expectations.

However, as business people who wish to grow the business for years to come, there are some obvious gaps that could be exploited. First, we have a number of steps where eCommerce isn’t so good at helping the customer move through the Buyer Journey. Why is this?

While the answer seems obvious, many smart people can’t seem to see it. By decomposing jobs into steps, it becomes simpler to see…even when we haven’t gone to the trouble of identifying desired outcomes (customer needs). eCommerce is a solution that was only designed to facilitate remote electronic transactions. Vendors that limit themselves to this single view will eventually get overtaken by another vendor that helps customers get more done on a single platform.

Let’s look at our examples

Buster Brown has outsourced its distribution to others. As a consumer, I have to deal with an array of potential ways to facilitate a transaction, and/or interface with customer service. Buster Brown has essentially outsourced everything and is betting on it’s long-lived brand name to live another day and pull every last scrap of value out of the perceived footwear market using a variety of distribution platforms.

Zappos has built a platform that extends the traditional concept of eCommerce. As a result, they can actually help consumers get more of the steps done better. For example, they can help identify the best style and fit. In addition to a deep faceted search interface, they have guides to help you get the right fit, structured customer feedback to inform you whether sizes run big or small, and they make getting a customer service agent on the phone as simple as a click.

In addition, Zappos has addressed additional steps to make sure they get them done better than other basic online shopping carts. They’ve designed micro-interactions into the experience, for instance, that tell you before you purchase exactly when you can expect a particular shoe to arrive at your door. Sharing your shoe experience within their community is embraced and they provide a solid structure so it’s as easy and relevant to consume as possible.

However, Amazon is really the platform to beat these days. Everyone else is playing catch-up. Getting beyond shoes (or books) Amazon is actually able to help you identify the need for a product based on your buying or browsing patterns. So, they help you get a step done that others cannot (which integrates multiple purchase journeys). It helps not only with monitoring delivery but also with receiving the shoes. Now that they are moving into the logistics world, I’ve personally noted that they will hire couriers that deliver items the next day, even if it’s a Sunday!

Getting beyond the steps of a single job, Amazon is the clear winner in helping people get more purchasing jobs done. While they began selling books, they have found ways to provide services that having nothing to do with books. But for Amazon, developing a technology infrastructure that moved beyond simple eCommerce resulted in excess capacity…that they could sell as a service — which also has a buyer journey. Amazon is the clearest business model example of helping customers and partners get more jobs done on a single, multi-sided platform.

eCommerce is the wrong focal point

While we often hear Jobs-to-be-Done enthusiasts (and some practitioners) ask “What job is my product hired for?”, this is really the wrong question to ask. If we ask that of eCommerce people, they would give you a very limited perspective. Customers have purchasing jobs to get done, and if you frame the questions around your solution — which doesn’t address the job completely — you will not be around as long as you had hoped.

In order to improve eCommerce, we need to stop thinking about eCommerce. It’s simply a solution. What we should focus on instead is what a customer is trying to accomplish when they happen to interact with eCommerce. Customers don’t give a hoot about your eCommerce platform. They care about their entire buying process. This should be the focal point; and it’s not just about selection and payment.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still areas for improvement within traditional eCommerce where a thorough step-by-step, outcome metric-driven analysis would yield positive results for improving certain steps. But, eCommerce clearly does not address the entire buyer journey, it only facilitates a limited set of digital interactions. Services like Zappos have been able to extend that to some extent.

It’s going to take a Job-focused view of the customer’s buying experience in order to make significant, integrated leaps forward over an extended period of time. Understanding the job-to-be-done properly is the first step you must take to identify the potential for growth around purchasing.

Sorry eCommerce, you’re just the current solution for a few steps of a much larger process — and time will prove that you just aren’t good enough. Can we improve the eCommerce experience for customers? Certainly. But it is merely a handful of steps in a larger process. When one of the eCommerce vendors figures that out, and adds steps to their platform, the traditional eCommerce platforms will be finished. More likely, the disruptor will come out of left field.

One more example for clarity…

…cuz I tend to ramble.

There is this patent out there for a Jobs-to-be-Done value model invented by Tony Ulwick and Jay Haynes. It’s called System and method for ensuring a person reaches a destination on time. Yes, this is an actual patent around a specific job-to-be-done using the Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) approach created by Strategyn.

If you think about this in terms of a process, as this patent does, you will realize that if you happen to be driving yourself (one of many possible approaches to reaching a destination on time), you may need to find available parking. This model takes that into consideration. So, what does that mean?

It means that if you are developing apps to locate nearby and inexpensive parking, you are only addressing a single step in the large job-to-be-done. As such, you are vulnerable to platforms that address many more of the steps (like Waze) who then decide to add an integrated parking assistance feature. When this happens, your parking app is done for…as the product manager in this video learned

Jay Haynes – Building high-growth products using jobs-to-be-done (ProductTank SF) from Mind the Product on Vimeo.

The moral of the story is this. If you don’t understand the job, you won’t see the threats. And once you do see the job, and help customers get all of their steps done better, you can then continue your growth by finding more jobs that customers are struggling with, and add them to your platform, or portfolio. Simple! Rinse and repeat.

Now go write a job story for that. 😉

How to improve the #eCommerce experience using #JTBD was originally published in Effective CRM through JTBD on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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