User Experience Intern
Overview: I worked in the merchandising team at The Home Depot. Merchandising is responsible for managing thousands of product assortments for over 2,000 stores around the country, which adds up to about $80B worth of inventory.
Problem: How can we improve the workflow and tools for employees in merchandising?
Solution: Design an integration for a new assortment planning software that lets users validate information from multiple sources. This reinforces a reliable source of truth so users can quickly gut check their work.
Business Value: This feature creates a more consistent and streamlined workflow, reducing the number of support tickets and helping to save users up to 5 hours per week.
I worked in a cross-functional product team with other designers, engineers, and PMs. I guided the team through the UX process to align on project goals and develop a shared understanding of the problem space.
During the discovery phase, I conducted interviewed end users and led the team in research synthesis and problem prioritization. Later in the process, I conducted iterative feedback sessions and created a usability testing plan.
After framing the problem, I facilitated a design studio for the team to brainstorm solutions. With these ideas, I created high-fidelity designs and interactive prototypes.
The goal of merchandising at The Home Depot is to:
get the right products, to the right store, at the right price, at the right time.
Within merchandising, there are two main groups of users.
My project focused primarily on Merchant Planners, who are responsible for SKU maintenance - the process of organizing and managing assortments of stock keeping units (SKUs) so that the right products get to the right stores.
Goal: To learn about Merchant Planners' work related to SKU maintenance, especially current strategies, processes, and pain points
Participants: 5 Merchant Planners
Procedure: Each participant took part in an individual semi-structured interview that lasted about 1 hour. I led the interview sessions while the rest of the product team, including engineers and PMs, took notes from another room.
Immediately following each interview session, we collectively analyzed the data together. This format helped build team understanding and alignment.
Qualitative data was collected on sticky notes. I lead multiple 1-hour synthesis sessions, facilitating group discussion and affinity mapping.
After completing all 5 interviews, the team compiled notes into specific problem statements.
We then prioritized these problem statements based on user need and technical feasibility.
Two problem statements were rated as both high need and high feasibility. These are the goals we decided to focus on moving forward.
1. Merchant Planners need to review validate and validate SKU assortment information before moving forward in their workflow.
2. Merchant Planners need to be able to identify data discrepancies in SKU assortment information.
Each Merchant Planner is in charge of thousands of SKUs. SKU maintenance affects when products are ordered and replenished in stores. Because each product is unique, Merchant Planners have implemented their own workarounds to meet their particular needs.
Merchant Planners work in tandem with other functional teams such as vendors, inventory planners, and space planners. Communication, reliability, and timeliness are crucial for getting products into stores.
Merchant Planners use many different tools in their current workflow. These tools draw from different databases that do not communicate with each other. When discrepancies arise, Merchant Planners must find the cause and resolve the issue.
Merchant Planners want the ability to proactively verify that their SKUs are correctly maintained (i.e., that SKU information is consistent across all databases). This would give them greater confidence that work will have the intended effects downstream.
After aligning on the problem, I facilitated a design studio for the team to brainstorm solutions.
With the team's ideas, I fleshed out the high-level content, information architecture, and user flows.
Concept: From our research, we learned that Merchant Planners lack of a consistent way to gut check their work to ensure that it is accurate. Therefore, we decided to create a feature that would allow Merchant Planners to validate their SKU maintenance changes and reinforce a reliable source of truth.
Implementation: After talking with stakeholders, we decided not to build a standalone application, which would only further complicate Merchant Planners' workflow. Instead, we chose to incorporate our solution into an assortment planning tool that was being pilot tested at the time. Integrating this feature would make information more accessible without adding another tool to the pile.
Value Added: By reducing the need for manual workarounds, this solution creates a more consistent and streamlined workflow. Merchant Planners can have more confidence when making SKU changes. Overall, this should reduce the number of support tickets and help to save up to 5 hours per week.
Online Shopping Metaphor
Think of SKU maintenance like online shopping. After making their intended SKU changes, Merchant Planners save these changes to a "shopping cart". The cart shown here has two items.
Cart Item Notifications
The top item has a Show Validation link next to an alert icon. The bottom item has the same link with a check icon.
Modal Dialog Box
Clicking the Show Validation link reveals a popup modal with detailed information.
The top item has an issue that requires attention. The Merchant Planner intended to change SKUs in 10 stores, but changes for only 5 stores will go through as intended. The other 5 stores are showing an alert message.
The bottom item has no issues. The Merchant Planner can confirm that all their SKU changes will go through as intended.
Goal: To test designs and validate use cases with Merchant Planners
Participants: 4 Merchant Planners
Procedure: Each participant took part in one feedback session that lasted about 1 hour. I led the interview sessions while the rest of the product team, including engineers and PMs, took notes from another room.
Findings: The response was very positive overall. Several users offered suggestions to tweak the UI. We also learned more about Merchant Planners' detailed information needs. This feedback was incorporated into the redesign.
The modal design was replaced by displaying summary information directly on the cart items instead. Now, users can more easily see a quick overview of what they need.
An alert message is displayed in the bottom right corner of the card (top item). This draws more attention to items that have issues.
Cart items without any issues (bottom item) will show a check icon. A confirmation message will show on hover. This design provides enough positive reassurance without being distracting.
Users can download SKU/store specific information. Export to Excel functionality is the best fit given the data complexity and users’ workflow needs.
Due to changes in the development timeline, I did not have time to conduct usability testing. However, I did create a testing plan that reflects what would have been done.
I learned a lot about the retail space, enterprise software, the product development process, and how UX is done in large a corporate setting. These were truly valuable experiences to have gained!
Clear communication and hands-on involvement from the core team helped make sure we were aligned and working towards a shared goal. This alignment was important because when our project changed directions we could all pivot together as a team.
- This experience truly taught me the importance of staying user-centered and thinking MVP-first. Everyone in the product team comes with their own preconceived notions and biases. Building a product isn't about designing everything perfect the first time, but working through problems together.