How we Learned to Build Users’ Trust in a new Product Category

I’m really proud to have been part of the team who launched Echo’s new website – our digital pharmacy users can now manage their medication from whichever device they like, without downloading our app.

When we started building our web product, our plan was pretty simple: “Just build the same features as our mobile app but make it work on bigger screens.” 

Straightforward, right?

Enter real users, and their real concerns.

In a new Category, Trust Must Come First

Echo is a digital pharmacy that lets users manage their prescription online, then delivers medication to their door. We’re operating in a nascent market: 50% of adults in the UK had a repeat prescription in the last year, yet just 1% of prescriptions are dispensed online*. So unlike shopping or banking, there isn’t yet a strong set of user preconceptions about the digital experience. The category is still in its infancy.

Building a category – especially in health – inherently has trust issues. We knew that the website needed to feel familiar enough to use, but also give primacy to trust and legitimacy.

Given the newness of the category, we looked at two separate approaches to achieving this:

Approach 1: Mimic Ecommerce

When we started working on the web project, we thought that copying patterns from ecommerce would make something new (managing a prescription online!) feel familiar, and therefore safe. These days pretty much everyone has shopped online, and delivering medication has quite a bit in common with delivering books, clothes, etc.

To test our hypotheses, we conducted user research. Over the course of a few months we did a mix of in-person and remote interviews with people on repeat prescriptions who were users of ecommerce or online banking services, but not customers of Echo. This was so that we could explore the mental models and expectations of people who were digitally engaged, but not yet familiar with a service like ours. We started off with wide-ranging interviews about current experiences, talking around high-level concepts outlining the anticipated user tasks, and over time, narrowed our focus to usability testing of key journeys on interactive prototypes.

However in the end, our research found that using ecommerce metaphors simply didn’t work. By letting users add medication and order it, they felt like they could choose whatever medications they wanted, and they would get it – just like using Amazon.

This feeling really freaked some people out (who felt it was insecure). At the same time, other people felt optimistic that they could get the medication brand that suited them best.

In reality, GPs write prescriptions and pharmacists prescribe them – the patient can’t just “order” whatever they like.

Ecommerce was familiar, but it risked setting our users up with the wrong expectations.

Approach 2: Mimic the Offline World (Gasp!)

Once we had worked out that some ecommerce patterns didn’t work, we went down another route to try to establish trust with our users.

This time, we tried to align the product experience with what happens to prescriptions in a normal high-street pharmacy.

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but this is basically the history of the internet 101. Skeuomorphism is how we all started to become familiar with desktops, trashcans, and that little floppy disk “save” icon. By mirroring the physical world, we can make interfaces more familiar, and thus easier to use and trust.

However basing our experience on the offline world didn’t mean that we built little pretend digital pieces of paper which get handed back and forth between tiny digital people.

Instead, we’ve lifted familiar language (that real people use when talking about their prescription), and drawn really bold and clear lines about what is a request, prescription, order and medication.

What we have today on our new website is just the very beginning of a journey of listening carefully to user’s mental models, and then reflecting the best digital version of that world.

*Based on the proportion of items dispensed from online pharmacies, October — November 2018 https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/prescription-data

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