Saturday, September 15, 2007

really understanding your users

There was a great story in BusinessWeek last week that really highlights what it means to understand your user. Bicycle use has been trending down significantly over the past few years and the major bicycle manufacturers (Trek, Giant, Shimano etc) were getting concerned. Gut instinct might blame it on obesity and baby boomers getting older and becoming less interested in cycling. But it turns out, that was not the case. The problem was poor human factors. While avid cyclists loved the new bicycles that were coming out, with high tech components, 30 gears, etc. It turns out, there were millions of people out there who would have loved to get a bicycle but they were intimidated by the prospect of going into a bicycle store and dealing with the cycling experts who worked there, choosing among the complex components (handlebars, seats, brakes, tires), and so on.

So the solution was to apply human factors. Shimano was the leader, but they got Trek and other brands on board. What they did was:

1. Create simple bikes. “Coasters” have comfortable seats, automatic gear shifting (a small computer that is powered by pedaling so it doesn’t need a battery), puncture resistant tires so that novices don’t have to change tires during a ride, chain guards to keep the grease off of pants.

2. They also made changes to the purchasing process. They added staff at bike stores that have expertise in dealing with people rather than experts in cycling. They changed the web site designs to make it easy for novices to find a bicycle that was appropriate for what they wanted.

3. They also advocated in local governments to make bike paths wider and safer.

There are higher profit margins in selling to hard core bikers. But because there are so many potential casual bikers out there, the impact could be greater with the new strategy.