Dinnertime with Amazon
Cookmate and Eats are the result of a school project exploring future product offerings for Amazon, with a focus on research techniques and prototyping.
In Spring 2016, Penn’s Integrated Product Design program offered a simple design challenge: learn about people’s dinner habits and transform them into Amazon’s next product offering. I worked on a three-person team to develop the research plan, ideate, and refine our concepts through prototypes.
Americans spend an average of 80 minutes consuming food each day. Increasingly, this time is spent away from home, often while tackling secondary activities.
In fact, in 2013 50% of food expenditures—a $1.3 trillion industry—went toward meals consumed away from home. An abundance of evidence shows that this trend has negative health, social, and emotional outcomes. To understand user needs in this space and explore new product opportunities for Amazon, our team focused our primary research on an extreme user group: individuals working overnight or otherwise unorthodox work schedules.
We also wanted to understand Amazon's stake in the market, so we researched their existing products, company culture, and market strategies. We found that Amazon Prime is a critical force in their business, yet fewer than half of their 120 million shoppers were Prime subscribers in 2016. Additional services, like Amazon Fresh and Dash, showed potential for further entry into the US's $700 billion grocery market and an opportunity to convert customers.
Over the course of two weeks, we built a research plan and conducted in-depth interviews and observations with 4 individuals who work irregular, overnight shifts, including three nurses and 1 hotel concierge. We knew interviews alone would give us only a glimpse into what our user group’s food habits looked like, so we asked each participant to help us further understand their experience through different tools, shown above.
While our users differed in their day-to-day goals, activities, and priorities, our research revealed that their needs were more aligned than not. We broke these needs out into 4 key insights.
Ownership leads to satisfaction.
“Blue Apron sounds so convenient, but I feel so bad having someone airmail a tablespoon of olive oil to me. I can go to the store. I really should.”
Meal times are an opportunity to socialize and relax.
“My meals at work depend on how busy it is. I need to be available during my breaks in case something comes up.
But when I'm home, I listen to music, watch TV or Facetime with friends when I’m eating.”
Small work-arounds spice up ordinary meals.
“My work schedule is too unpredictable to plan out elaborate meals, so I rely on simple tricks, like my panini press, to improve the way my food tastes.”
Predictable meal structures simplify prep.
“I keep the staples I need on hand, so they’re there when I cook my week’s meals... I like to make my starches, vegetables, and proteins separately so I can mix & match during the week.
Though we heard users echoing the same needs--ownership, variety, and satisfaction--our primary research made clear that not all users in our target audience are inclined to expend the same energy or effort on food preparation. In our following work, we focused on the ‘Aspirational Home Cooker.’
Plan-Ahead Meal Prepper
- Willing to invest time & resources
- Finds meal preparation rejuvenating
- Aims for variety
Aspirational Home Cooker
- Wants to be more organized & intentional
- Feels weight of responsibility
- Settles for the same options
‘On The Fly’ Orderer
- Convenience is king
- Prioritizes independence
- Desires healthy options
Current "Aspirational Home Cooker" Journey
We mapped each step of the Aspirational Home Cooker's journey to understand where pain points arise and to identify opportunity areas Amazon hasn’t yet capitalized on. It quickly because clear that making a single meal isn’t as simple as it may seem.
We also explored existing products and services, using 2x2 matrices to identify gaps in the market. This competitive analysis showed that while there are products that make food preparation easier, few products offered both a variety of options and user ownership in the process. And even fewer ensured healthy options.
Before ideating, we broke out our research findings into actionable criteria and identified overlapping opportunity areas for both Amazon and their users.
We brainstormed dozens of ideas and evaluated them against our design criteria and chose to prototype three directions.
After a round of testing, we chose to carry forward just two designs, “TV-Integrated Cooking” and “Adult Lunchables.”
In the prototyping rounds that follow, we wanted to know:
Does the solution add enough value or interest to the meal?
What features and interactions are critical vs 'nice to have'?
Developing TV-Integrated Cooking
We asked a potential user to 'bodystorm' with us -- we gave her the ingredients and a spatula equipped with a button, and asked her to cook a meal while streaming a favorite show. After each recipe step, she was asked to used the spatula’s button to progress to the next instruction.
Result: Our tester was easily distracted by what was on the stove and wound up missing key moments in her show, but had no way to manage the content's pacing. Plus, pressing a button on her spatula became counterintuitive when she made use of other kitchen tools.
Next, we wanted to know if the progress button needed to be static or portable. We simulated the experience by reading the recipe steps aloud to the chef and asking them to mark Post-its around the kitchen to indicate each time and location the ‘button’ was pressed.
Result: We found there wasn't one perfect spot for our button to live. Instead, where the button was placed depended on the stage of the recipe and recipe process. This made clear our final product needed to be portable and easy-to-clean.
Amazon Cookmate helps users to enjoy video content and cook meals seamlessly, while growing Amazon's Prime and Fresh consumer base.
First, customers select their desired recipe through Amazon’s platform, then order the fresh ingredients through Amazon Fresh. When their ingredients arrive, they visit the site, where they're prompted to select their desired show. As they watch their video, each recipe step appears on screen as the video plays. A portable tabletop button allows for easy movement between steps without touching the computer.
Developing Adult Lunchables
We put together a set of fresh and frozen meals that could break into pre-portioned servings. Then, we gave them both to a user and measured the length of time from refrigerator to table. Finally, we rated the cooking time for each.
Result: The dish took under five minutes to prepare and heat. The snap-off interaction was surprisingly pleasing, though the consumer questioned whether the proportions would work for different eaters. Finally, we found that frozen dishes warmed up more evenly than fresh.
Next, we wanted to know if the taste and quality of our frozen dishes met user standards, so we A/B tested two dishes, one fresh and one frozen with a skeptic.
Result: After eating both, our tester declared, “I don’t care [that it is frozen food] anymore, now that I’ve tasted it. It’s pretty good.”
Amazon Eats gives shoppers the opportunity to exercise personal preference while eliminating the most time-intensive steps of meal preparation.
Eats provides variety and balance by creating modular meal options, pre-frozen in sets. Each dish can be composed from a range of frozen starches, proteins, vegetables, and sauces. Individual servings may be easily snapped off in portions congruent with the user’s preference, then added to their Amazon lunch container and heated at work for just a few minutes.
Both product recommendations act as key drivers to Amazon’s high profit Prime and Fresh platforms.
With Prime’s annual subscription fee and higher user purchasing rate, these products tap into significant market potential in an underrepresented category.
Collaborators: Danielle Lashley, Eric Tepper