Am I satisfied or stuck? The impact of ecosystems on household users

Am I satisfied or stuck? The impact of ecosystems on household users



Manufacturers building an ecosystem of devices and services should design for both a separate, personalized experience and household or shared experience.

The idea of connected devices and a connected home fascinates me – I’m all for anything that makes my life more convenient! I have Alexa in pretty much every room of my house; she’s even in my car. However, as I expand my connected home network, I have struggled with setting up additional devices and services. Powering them on and account linking is generally simple; the hard part is getting everything to work together.

In the case of Amazon devices (e.g., Echo) and services (e.g., Music Unlimited), if you are single or start from one family/shared email address, the connected home ecosystem is pretty simple. You have one account tied to all devices, Prime, and streaming products and services. However, once you introduce one or more additional family members, things get much more complicated.

In my case, my husband and I each had our own Amazon account when we met. Even when we got married, it didn’t make sense to share an account because we liked being able to have personalized recommendations and to keep our purchase history separate. Some years later, I stumbled across Amazon Household that lets you tie separate accounts together so you can share Prime benefits. After linking our accounts, I thought we’d truly have a “household” account that would allow us to share all services and content. Unfortunately, you can’t share everything (i.e, purchased content (video) and certain subscriptions).

Fast forward to my first Echo devices – I was so excited to set them up and try them out! But when I tested out the List functionality (‘Alexa, add milk to the shopping list’), nothing showed up in my app. Why wasn’t this working?! After trying different things (and a little cursing) I realized that I had set up the devices with my husband’s Amazon account since were gifts for him and therefore I had to sign into the Alexa app through his account, not mine. With Amazon Household, I didn’t think it would matter which account the Echos were tied to, but it does.

What is technically easy to set up, actually requires a high cognitive load each time I set up a device or access content because I have to remember which account I used for what. I currently have:

  • Amazon Prime account with my email address which is linked to my husband’s Amazon account (with his email address) so he can get Prime
  • Alexa app on my phone but signed in using my husband’s Amazon account for Echo devices and lists
  • Amazon Music Unlimited account signed in using my husband’s email address
  • Roav VIVA Alexa-enabled device in my car that requires me to sign into my Amazon app with my husband’s email address to get access to Music Unlimited, but to shop and see my recommendations, I must sign back into the Amazon app with my email

One could argue that I should have been more intentional when setting up all these devices and services. But in the moment I was so excited to get these things working that which account to use was the last thing on my mind. I’ve questioned if I should suck it up and start all over with a family account. But what would I gain? Possibly an easier setup process going forward and one account for everything, but lots of effort up front to reset everything. And what would I lose? Personalized recommendations, purchase privacy, and time!

Netflix and Hulu have overcome this multi-account hurdle with their ‘profile’ platform which generates separate watch lists and recommendations. Admittedly, they are much simpler systems with limited components.

There are huge benefits to having an ecosystem of devices and services in a home, whether it’s Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. The consumer benefits by (generally) having a seamless experience of integrating the devices and services and working from a similar interface or set of commands used across multiple devices. For the manufacturer, the benefits of having its ecosystem in a home means more loyal customers since, for the consumer, it can be difficult or impractical to try new devices when the home is entrenched in one ecosystem.

Many connected device manufacturers have created a great set-up-and-use experience with plug and play devices and simple mobile apps. However, manufacturers should think beyond the experience of a single user. Consider how a couple or family would set up, purchase, use, and add to the ecosystem. Consider couples who come with individual personal accounts and those who create a family account together. Also consider early adopters who have tied accounts to early versions of the system – ensure there is support to improve their experience as devices or new features are added. Some questions to ask include:

  • What content would users want to keep separate: purchase history, recommendations, watch/wish list, etc.
  • What content would users expect to share: purchased content, services, etc.
  • Can established individual accounts be tied together to form a true “household” account?

Ultimately, as the foothold of any ecosystem gets stronger, the user can either feel satisfied and happy or stuck and frustrated. And that feeling (satisfied or stuck) becomes associated with the brand.

Designing your POS so it’s not a POS

Designing your POS so it’s not a POS



Regardless of whether the interface is intended to be used by a customer (novice) or an employee (expert), the key is to ensure that the POS interface is designed for the intended audience. To do this, organizations should engage users throughout the design process.

Point-of-sale (POS) interfaces are increasingly consumer facing. No longer limited to employee use, the customer often places their own order. Or, if the order is entered by the employee, the customer frequently sees a more detailed order summary than has traditionally been presented. On a recent office field trip to a nearby fast food restaurant, we noticed something odd (see the picture below): At the order counter, there was a screen opposite the employee screen. While that was not unusual, what was unusual was that the screen reflected the exact POS the employee uses! This may be an attempt at transparency to show the customer what they’re getting, but for the most part, this just serves to confuse. As a customer, am I supposed to be clicking buttons? What do all these buttons and acronyms mean? And why am I seeing this?

Actual customer-facing screen

By the way, our team could not resist trying to touch this screen (nothing happened).

The customer POS

It goes without saying that all POS interfaces need to be easy to use and efficient, regardless of whether the customer is passively presented with an order summary or is actively inputting information. In the case of the former, the customer should be presented with a visually simple order summary that facilitates quick and easy scanning to ensure the order is accurate, prices are correct, etc. Ideally, the display should be free of jargon that is used internally by the (e.g.) kitchen. For example, the summary should say “Extra pickles” and not just “++PKL.”

While it is good to be transparent and let the customers know exactly what they are ordering, this sense of transparency should not come at the expense of information overload. If the order is being taken for the customer, they do not need to see every possible combination of how a drink could be ordered; they just need to see that they ordered a Large Coke and the associated price.

In this same vein of avoiding information overload, if the customer enters the order, they need to have fewer features. For example, the interface may not have cash available as a payment method, or not having the option to enter promo codes if they can’t do it without manager intervention, and a more step-wise approach to ordering. The customer-facing interface also needs to be far more graphical, visually pleasing, and branded. McDonalds and Panera do this well for their in-store customer order interface; Buffalo Wild Wings and Domino’s are particularly good on the mobile app front.

The employee POS

On the other side of the counter, the employee (or expert) view of the POS interface does not necessarily need an exceptional visual design; functionality and efficiency must be prioritized. The design of an expert user interface needs to prioritize completing the task as quickly and effectively as possible; to this end, many of the flashy design elements are stripped away so that multiple features, both basic and more advanced functions, are at the forefront. It may need several functions a customer would not need if they were inputting their own order – ability to accept cash, enter promotional codes, etc. on a single screen.

If you’re like me and needed manager-intervention during the self-checkout process at the grocery store, then you’ve seen the “employee-view” of the self-checkout system. It looks vastly different than the customer-facing interface. It’s generally stripped of the store’s branding, packed with more features on a single screen, and offers the types of functionality that only an employee would need.

Regardless of whether the interface is intended to be used by a customer or an employee, the key is to ensure that the POS interface is right for the intended audience. The only way to accomplish this is user testing. From early concept testing through final summative testing, collecting user input and implementing this feedback will result in a happy and satisfied user.

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