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How DoorDash leveraged a customer problem to create its most successful feature yet

February 1, 2022, 5:09 PM UTC

In June 2020, the folks at DoorDash started to notice a pattern. Customers placing takeout orders on the app were, within 10 minutes, consistently placing additional orders to nearby 7-Eleven stores for anything from alcohol to soft drinks to snacks to pints of Ben & Jerry’s as an accompaniment to whatever they’d ordered for dinner that night. For Helena Seo, head of design at the company, this meant opportunity. How could the design team leverage this information to create something delightful for DoorDash customers?

Seo had joined the company in January 2019, running a team of nine. In her tenure since then, she’s increased the size of her team tenfold and created a formalized process for innovation and product development. “In my mind design is the process that enables the team to solve problems in the most effective way possible,” says Seo. “Our success in design is making a better experience for the customer. Did we solve a problem and make their experience better, easier, and more delightful?”

At DoorDash, says Seo, the design team serves as a through-line in all user experience functions. The company creates experiences for consumers, restaurant owners, and merchants, and of course dashers (otherwise known as the delivery team). Seo says her team tries to think holistically about how and what they’re designing, paying close attention to craft and addressing all possible cases. To solve the 7-Eleven question, the team leaned on an analogy made somewhat famous by UX designer Peter Merholz. He explains the process of user experience design as akin to baking a single cupcake. The ingredients, he argues, when considered individually have no real value to the end user. “Only at the end do you have something edible and something you can learn from,” says Seo, describing Merholz’s cupcake approach.

In addition, the theory goes, the tidiness and size of a cupcake makes the prototyping process far easier, allowing for constant tweaks along the way. “Making a wedding cake or a birthday cake at your first attempt can take a long time, and maybe won’t even taste good,” says Seo. “Start with a cupcake. They are far easier and faster to make than a wedding cake. You can learn about your ingredients, your flavors and inform your next cupcake.”

In this case, the cupcake Seo’s team built became a new offering called DoubleDash. It launched in August 2021 and allows customers to place a second order within 10 minutes of the first, adding onto just one initial delivery at no extra cost. In terms of competition, Uber had launched a similar offering in April 2021 called Add on Orders in partnership with Wawa and 7-Elevens across the country as part of a larger bundle of product updates to Uber and UberEats, but there hadn’t been too much overlap in the space. In order to design a meaningful outcome, the DoorDash design team needed to consider a few major tenets on their way to a complete cupcake—and eventually a wedding cake.

Courtesy of DoorDash

And now, DoubleDash has proven a major hit across the board: customers are now getting more from their orders than before, while merchants are able to leverage it to acquire and convert entirely new customers. (In fact, the company reports that 50 percent of DoubleDash users are ordering from merchants they’ve never ordered from before.) Herewith, a few of the best takeaways from the project:

Start small

The first version of DoubleDash came in the form of a banner on the app, alerting customers that an add-on order was an option for 7-Eleven. Rajat Shroff, VP of Product at DoorDash, says the initial test was a quick and dirty version in just one or two markets, but provided enough insight to get the ball rolling. Seo points out that there were many tiny, but important questions to address within the design to make the experience of using DoubleDash seamless and clear: “What happens if the 10-minute window expires? What if the added order contains alcohol? How do we educate consumers about the proper handoff process? All of these things have to be messaged in a very small scope of time. We had to think in detail.” In this case, Seo and Shroff’s teams leaned into some deep customer research to truly understand how to narrow the scope of the design approach to complete a first iteration. Shroff says that it was that initial test run of DoubleDash that helped inform what ingredients would be most critical to the cake going forward. “We are very big on testing at DoorDash,” says Shroff. “That’s how we knew to invest in it and go forward.”

Ask questions, and make another cupcake. Repeat.

While the end user, the person at home looking for great Saturday night takeout options, is a clear focus, he or she isn’t the only stakeholder in the DoorDash ecosystem. The merchant and the delivery person also have questions and concerns around the DoubleDash experience. The team’s research showed that merchants were worried that adding another stop to what originally began as a delivery from their restaurant might jeopardize the quality of their product, too. Would the meal be cold by the time it arrived? Would it arrive too late? Would the restaurant make less money in the end if instead of paying for a dessert item off of the menu, the customer opted for a pint of ice cream from 7-Eleven? Shroff also points out that even if none of those things happened but the merchant or customer still had anxiety about it, that would be a problem too. So, he says, a big part of the work was not just innovating for actual hiccups, but also the worry of potential ones, too. The process needed to be efficient and clear in order to uphold promises to all stakeholders along the way. “The team had to keep improving the post-check out experience and then do the research before starting with the pre-checkout experience,” says Seo. “It’s a constant balancing act so that it is a win-win for all parties.”

Make your wedding cake

Over the course of the year, Seo’s team slowly worked its way from cupcake to wedding cake with tiny changes, fueled by more research and feedback from all stakeholders. “We had some ‘Aha’ moments in user testing,” says Seo. “In our initial design we had a hypothesis that showing an image of ice cream on the banner would entice customers more. Images can play a huge role in inspiration, especially when you’re hungry. But the images didn’t help customers understand what the banner was about. The ice cream could just be another advertisement that would take customers out of the order tracking page. The 7-Eleven store banner was essential because it related to the brick-and-mortar store.” These final learnings, says Seo, helped move the team from cupcake to wedding cake in the end. The design that ultimately became the DoubleDash wedding cake kept users inside the ordering process, with options to add on a second delivery right then and there, not as a secondary step beyond the primary takeout order. “More customers place a bundled order now than ever before,” says Seo, noting the company is constantly adding merchants to the DoubleDash pool. “It’s been a huge success for our business.”

Nicole Gull McElroy


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