UX Research Case Study: Understanding How Users Plan — in Shared and Individual Spaces.

A screenshot with the heading: Instamart and subtitle: Understanding How Users Plan their Grocery Shopping. A Research Case Study, Jan-Feb 2023.

Exploring the patterns and planning strategies of Instamart users in shared and individual spaces.

Before the advent of online grocery applications, people relied on going to physical stores or waiting for the vegetable cart to come around to get their daily groceries.

I found an interesting study, conducted by LocalCircles in late of 2022, that got over 10,000 responses. They found that 45% of Indian consumers shop for groceries online using fast delivery apps each month and that 1 in 10 households place over 10 orders a month.

To see what groceries these respondents were buying, they found that 70% use these applications to purchase last minute essentials and indulgence foods and 29% were using to get all their grocery needs.

A pie graph from a study conducted by LocalCirles — As a household, what are the categories of items that you order using fast delivery apps ( delivery within 10 minutes — 2 hours)? The pie graph depicts the following data: 37% — Last minute essentials ( Milk, Bread, Curds, Fruits, Veggies, Etc.). 11% — Indulgence items ( soft drinks, Ice cream, Chocolate, Paan etc. ) 23% — both last minute essentials and indulgence items. 29% — All my groceries 0% — Can’t say

This represents a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels and indicates a shift in consumer behaviour.

One of those fast delivery apps is Instamart, which started smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic and was a saviour in delivering essentials during the Covid wave.

I was at my friend’s place and they were doing their grocery shopping at that time. I made a fun little comic to explain what went down.

A 4 panel comic explaining what happened when my friend’s were ordering groceries online. First panel —  The roommate placing the order asks his roommates if there’s anything they’d want to include to the cart. Everyone chimes in: Garbage bags, chillies, meat masala, bay leaf, cheese puffs! Next panel — the roommate in the kitchen asks to get tea powder, garam masala and lays. Next panel — order has been placed. Final panel — They realise they didn’t order cheese puffs. One person yells “NOOOO”

I wanted reassurance from that story I told through the comic that it was based on a wider reality and it was a problem that was necessary to look into.

As a replacement for initial discussions with stakeholders, I had brief conversations with eight people in my social circle who regularly order online.

What I got from those conversations were that:

  1. People do pre-plan their grocery shopping and shop with intent. The main goal for this pre-planning is to not forget essential or important items.
  2. Each person I talked to had different ways of planning and often used a combination of methods like using lists but also relying on their memory by using mental lists.
  3. In shared spaces, they use WhatsApp to drop messages of items whenever they remember between roommates and they would have a discussion with each other before placing an order.

This helped me validate the purpose of this study.

Understanding the W’s of Planning — users who live alone and in shared space. The purpose of the study is to understand the following questions: Why do users plan, what methods do they use, when do they plan and who does the planning?

I wanted to understand this with users in different environments and understand the challenges they face in each of these areas.

At the end of this study, I wanted to understand if Instamart supports their planning and if there was room for improvement or opportunities and what that may look like.

Understanding the two issues highlighted in the problem statement can significantly improve the user experience of online grocery shopping platforms, making it more convenient and accessible for users.

I was curious to know what was already found to answer those W questions I posed earlier. I started off by reading through peer-reviewed papers to understand this.

I found interesting papers that looked into what methods users use for grocery shopping, why they did so and how communication takes place in shared spaces. These are the insights from secondary research:

List vs Non List Users:

After the empathy phase, I could divide those who I talked to into two groups: those who use a list and those who didn’t.

Lists provided a sense of comfort — which reduced stress in those who used them — as it helps them not forget and also help in controlling how much they spend — as they would only buy items on the list.

Those non-list users did not use a list because they were so confident in their ability to only buy what is required to them.

Communication in Shared Spaces

I understood how communication and information is dealt with in such environments. One of the interesting ideas I found was how people process information that needs to be acted by everyone in that space.

A paper titled The Value of Contextual Locations, revealed how any information received in a shared space has ‘metadata’ — which was a term coined in that paper — which gives information regarding time, ownership, awareness and urgency.

Any new routines in that space, to become a shared language, needs to have this metadata attached to them so they’re quickly acted on and understood.

Desk Research gave me a look into some of the ways to answer the W Questions but I wanted a deeper look into the challenges through generative research.

I would often question if I was using the right method or if I was asking the wrong question to the right participants or even asking the right questions to the wrong participants.

Research plan helped me answer those questions and served as a point of reference to look back on throughout the research process.


What I hoped to learn from users:

  1. What are the most common planning strategies that users employ when shopping for groceries online on Instamart and challenges that accompany them.
  2. Understand the unique challenges, if any, that users in shared face on Instamart.
  3. Understand if Instamart and its features support the user’s planing needs on Instamart.

Since the objective of this study is to understand user behaviours when it comes to planning, I used the generative research method — by conducting user interviews.

User Criteria

According to secondary research, the majority of Instamart users are below the ages of 35. The youngest participant is 22 while the oldest is 30.

There were five males and four females among the participants

4 participants — living alone
5 participants — living with more than one person

Social circles and word-of-mouth were used to recruit all the participants. Those who indicated their interest filled the screener survey and submitted their contact information.

  • While conducting the interviews, one of the intervees who lived alone, their data points were not considered as they do not use Instamart for their groceries and accidentally ticked the wrong option in the screener. I kept in mind that if I did not find any patterns within the 9 participants, I would recruit more.

Discussion Guide

While making the discussion guide, I divided the interview into themes and wrote down questions within them.

Disclaimer: If you’re a recruiter and want an in-depth detailed look at the research plan, user criteria, screener questionnaire and the discussion guide, do reach out to me.

After each interview, I wrote down my initial observations to an excel sheet. I continued adding to them after going through the transcript.

After that, I transferred these observations to sticky notes, which I then did affinity mapping to identify patterns and themes. With those themes, I formed my findings and wrote insights that explain them.

A screenshot depicting: 1. Affinity Mapping: A brown door with sticky notes on it. 2. A screenshot of a FigJam file showing data analysis done by the author.

This is as far as the process goes, let’s dig into the actual meat!

So what did I find?

Based on the trends in my affinity mapping, 7 major themes stood out:

Scattered Planning

We initially saw in the empathy phase how people plan with intent and use multiple methods to plan. This was echoed in the user interviews as well. The main challenge users faced was that: they find it laborious to go through the grocery plans that they’ve made throughout the week — their lists, mental lists, text messages, etc.

  • Most mentioned how disorganised they find their planning and the difficulties they face in find in having to navigate their lists and various methods.
  • If they forget, they talked about how frustrated they feel in having to spend time and money to purchase the item they forgot — by either stepping out or placing an order again.

“ ….Okay, these are these are the items that we need. I write them down on google notes. Sometimes, it happens most of the time that, our cook tells us that okay, these are the items that are missing, and I make add that to that list. And we share among each other through WhatsApp” — P4, 23, 1 roommate, Bangalore

“ … I write a list throughout the week so it’ll be like: eggs, tomatoes, bindi, detergent, etc. So I have to see what all vegetables I need in that list and add. I guess it’s a little difficult cause I have to go so much back and forth” — P2, 22, Lives alone, Bangalore

Communication in Shared Spaces

A pattern among participants in shared spaces was that while they use verbal communication by having discussions when they’re in the same space, they use WhatsApp when not. Users use WhatsApp to conveniently communicate grocery items they want throughout the week by adding them to their group chat.

  • Most users, who add items to the cart, find it challenging to keep track of all the requests, and with multiple people speaking at once, some items may be unintentionally left out of the shopping cart.
  • These users find it frustrating to scroll through so many unrelated messages in their group chat just so they could find the ones sent by the roommates about groceries.
  • Some users specify the priority and importance of an item by sending additional messages such as ‘Don’t forget’ or ‘important’ with the item.
A screenshot of a Whatsapp conversation between two people: Person A: Harper, Sugar, Oyster Sauce, Chilli Oil, Biscuits. Person B: RICE, very very important. And/or Millet, Onions V v imp. A text to the side adding by the author says: P6 and their roommate use WhatsApp to plan for groceries and they specify important items — P6,25, 1 roommate, Bangalore

“If they are physically present, they tell them directly. And if they’re not, they’ll just check the list. So the final list would be shared in our WhatsApp group, they share there if anything else is needed. When we have to order though, looking through all those messages was a task” — P7, 22, 4 roommates, Noida

It was evident how the back-and-forth between the methods was causing considerable amount of frustration in these users.

Lack of List Updation

Users often forget to add items to their shopping list when they remember they need them while being occupied with other activities.

A screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation between 4 roommates where one roommate asks if they ordered detergent, but it was forgotten as no one added it to the list. They plan to get it next time. Text in the screenshot added by the author: P5 mentioned to verbally telling to get detergent while washing his clothes, but it wasn’t added to the list and forgotten to order.
A screenshot that an interviewee had sent over after their user interview.

Users recalled instances like these where they had this sudden realisation that they need something — an ingredient or an item — while doing something else. Like cooking, having a normal conversation with friends or while driving.

They make a mental reminder to add this item to their list. But since their short-term memory is focused on the task at hand, the reminder to add the item to their list may slip their mind.

As a result, the item may not be purchased and forgotten about and users may feel frustrated or annoyed with themselves for forgetting to add it to their list.

“Often, often, because while cooking, while cooking with spices, I see that they’re almost gotten over. And after cooking, I forget, I forget to add it until unless I remember it again while cooking the next day in context.” — P8, 26, lives alone, Bangalore

Coordination is Challenging

In a shared living space, roommates typically divide responsibilities among themselves. One person is often responsible for grocery shopping, which involves reviewing the household grocery list, communicating with roommates about items, and ultimately making the final purchase.

  • Most mentioned that there is a designated person who purchases groceries and they may feel overwhelmed with keeping track of everyone’s needs, especially when last minute additions are made.
  • Some mentioned that coordinating grocery shopping among roommates to be challenging due to conflicting schedules, differing dietary needs, and varying preferences for brands and products.
  • The roommate who pays for the groceries is responsible for adding the expenses to the budgeting app. Household expenses are divided equally, while personal expenses are calculated and paid by each individual.

“There would be this one person who who will see what is there and what isn’t and would add those items to the cart. And in the latter part of the process is just show the items to all of the roommates. And we would either agree or disagree with that, and have a discussion accordingly. And after that, he’ll see if anybody wants something individually. We’ll add that. And yeah, eventually we’ll order.” — P7, 22, 4 roommates, Noida

The Final Check Before the Purchase

Those living in shared spaces want to verify the cart before placing an order to make sure all items are included.

  • Most mentioned that they would show the contents of a cart to their roommates before placing an order. If any items are forgotten, they are be immediately requested to be added.
  • Most living in a shared space mentioned about ‘Sharing Cart’ feature to easily collaborate with their roommates and to ‘check’ the cart before purchasing.

“ When my roommate is placing the order, we just take a look what and all have been added. If everything is there. Like the items that I wanted. Whenever I’m not there, when I’m at work or outside, I hope that my roommate added what I wanted. I can’t go through the cart then” — P5, 24, 3 roommates, Bangalore

Regular Puchases

People find it tedious to individually and manually add products they frequently buy to the cart every week.

  • Most users rely heavily on the ‘Frequently bought items’ feature which made it easy for them to repurchase staple items without needing to search to re-find them each time they return for a new order.
  • Some users mentioned that they would want all the items they’d bought frequently to be available to add to the cart at once.

“I buy bread, eggs, milk and stuff like that every week and usually, they show up in the banner at the top, so I just add from there. Sometimes, some items are not there. Every week, since I buy the same products, I have to search and add” — P1, 27, lives alone, Bangalore

Lack of Reminders

Users want to be reminded of items that may need to be restocked based on their past purchases

  • Some users mentioned to forgetting to check their grocery lists and relying on their memory while placing on order. In these scenarios, these users mentioned to forgetting some non-essential items.
  • Most users mentioned wanting push notifications to act as a reminder for purchasing items as this would remind the user when and what to shop.
  • Most users talked about wanting notifications from instamart to suggest when to restock items — they feel that they’re not aware when to buy items again and only become aware when they see it’s almost depleted. If they cannot wait for their next grocery trip, they have to place an individual order for that item

“ If there is something that kinda reminds me about stuff that I’m buying regularly, it would save a lot of mental energy. I know that, weekly, my veggies will get over, and once a month, my flour is done, I don’t want to think about all this. It would be nice to be reminded” — P4, 23, 1 roommate, Bangalore

“I do sometimes forget to check that list. So I try to put reminders and all but then I sometimes I forget to put reminders on” — P1, 27, Lives alone, Bangalore

By conducting competetive analysis into Instamart’s direct competitors, I hoped to understand how these applications are addressing the current challenges identified with user interviews, so that I can gain insights into best practices and identify opportunities for improvement

A screenshot of competitive analysis done with Instamart’s direct competitors: Instamart, Dunzo, Zepto, Bigbasket and BlinkIt.
Competitive Analysis with Instamart’s direct competitors.

Insights from Competitive Analysis:

Bigbasket’s list feature is not personalized enough: While Bigbasket does have a list feature, it is generated automatically based on past purchases and doesn’t necessarily reflect what users need for their current grocery planning.

Bigbasket’s ‘Save for Later’ feature helps users to save items for future but has limitations: Users cannot categorize their grocery items and create customisable lists within this feature.

Instamart’s past purchase feature has limitations: Although Instamart shows users their past purchases, it does not allow them to click on an item to go to the product page, making it difficult for users to quickly add items to their cart.

Lack of collaboration features: None of the applications provide a feature for users to collaborate on grocery planning with others. This suggests that there is an opportunity to introduce a feature that allows users to collaborate on grocery planning with their friends, family or roommates.

In summary, these insights suggest that there is an opportunity for improvement in the grocery planning features offered by these applications.

By addressing the limitations of the existing features and introducing new ones such as personalised lists, easy access to past purchases, and collaboration features, we can improve the overall user experience and meet the diverse planning needs of users.

Desk research and the user interviews echoed how keeping a list helps them plan but that comes with it’s own challenges.

From the pain points we saw, we can address those challenges by introducing a list feature for users to add, remove and categorise items on the list.

Grocery List Feature

  • Provides a search function to easily find and add items to the list — would allow users to quickly find and add specific items to the list, rather than having to manually scroll through a long list of items.
  • Allowing users to browse their past purchases will provide a reference for users when adding to the list — if there were any items they had previously purchased, they can easily add them to their list.
  • Allows users to create multiple lists — “Weekly Household Groceries”, “Trip to Goa” or “daily essentials”. Users can create and manage multiple lists for different occasions or purposes, making it easier to keep track of what they need to buy.
  • Allow users to duplicate their lists — this would allow users want to make a list that is an extension of their other lists, such as a list for daily essentials, they can duplicate their daily list and add more items to this new list.
  • Provide the ability to use voice assistant features. Users can quickly add items to their list and cart with a voice command — esp when they’re occupied with another activity and they suddenly remember an item. They can simply say: Hey Google, add milk to my household grocery list on Swiggy Instamart.
  • Swiggy rolled out their voice search feature. With this, I saw this as an opportunity to expand this into a feature for quick addition of items.
  • Reminders from instamart to purchase items on the list — this would help users to remember to purchase items on the list, especially if they are time-sensitive or if they tend to forget things easily.

All of That, Plus More, in Shared Spaces

The main challenge for planning in shared spaces was how unorganised and scattered buying groceries was between members in that space.

To create a more collaborate experience,

  • Allow multiple users to add and remove items to the grocery list in real-time — this ensures that all users in the shared space have access to the most up-to-date information about the grocery list, and that any changes made by one user are reflected in real-time in the list for all other users.
  • Provide the ability to add notes or comments to specific items on the list to clarify details or preferences — since users have different brand preferences and priorities, allowing users to add notes or comments to signify this would help in providing more details and facilitate conversation
  • Provide users with the option for each item added in the list to be under ‘Personal’ or ‘Split with Everyone’ — when viewing the final bill, it is easy to understand how much is owed based on the items added by that member.
  • Add a feature that allows users to view which of their roommates has approved a cart before making a purchase — This way, other household members can review the cart and give their consent before the final purchase is made.
  • Since all the users in the space might not be users of Instamart. Providing users with the option to share the list as a text or an image would keep everyone in the loop.

According to desk research, we saw how for information to be acted on, it needs to have urgency to the metadata attached to it. This can be done by providing notifications and reminders.

  • These notifications would give information regarding the shared grocery list — when items are added by a member or who verified the cart.
  • Similarly, being able to share reminders with other users, such as letting them know: “Hey, add your items to the cart cause I’m about to make the purchase” or reminders to verify the cart sent to each member.
  1. Improve overall shopping experience
  • The research done identified challenges faced by users when planning in different environments and how integrating a planning feature can enchance the overall shopping experience on Instamart.

2. Increased loyalty and repeat business

  • Users can save time and effort by making personalised grocery lists. As a result, users are more likely to have a positive experience with the application, which can lead to increased loyalty and repeat business.

3. Increased user engagement

  • By allowing users to share their grocery lists with friends and family, Instamart can increase user engagement.

If you don’t reflect on what went wrong, are you really doing research?

What went well —

  • While doing this research, I had multiple AHA moments where I understood why a particular method was being used and why another wasn’t. Being able to relate that textbook theory from what I’ve read to the project was really rewarding.
  • I saw how much I was jumping back and forth within the process and throughout the study. I became really apparent how non-linear it was.

What didn’t —

  • In the future, I realised how much easier it would be for me to do the method of tagging on user interview transcripts using a tool like Dovetail, which would make affinity mapping wayyyy easier.
  • Another was how intuitive to use sticky notes for affinity mapping, but I will be trying to find cheaper alternatives for them seeing how many I had to go through!

This study was a huge learning curve. I went into the project with a lot of theory floating in my head and I came out with more of a practical experience and knowledge. So overall, it was incredibly rewarding!

Thank you for reading :D!

A huge shout out and thank you to Vasudhashah for being such an incredibly patient mentor and helping me out with this case study!

If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a mail at tiyyagurabhavana@gmail.com or connect on LinkedIn.

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