Does Bulk-Buy Fly? User Testing at The Mill

MSM Outside The Mill

There’s only so much reading and report writing you can do before knowing whether what you’re up to is right – eventually, it’s about time you road-tested.

After a whirlwind start, the Hub Launchpad jolted into its 7th week – the halfway point, and a time to take stock. We’d made some significant progress in honing our market, defining our problem, and producing a solid body of research – but often we’d made the most progress when speaking directly with our users.

Having steeled ourselves on the streets of Hackney, a new opportunity emerged to reconnect with our users. The Mill, a volunteer run community centre in the heart of Walthamstow, offered us three days to speak with people about the cost of living and how we might reduce it. As ever, the results weren’t exactly what we were expecting.

With food prices ever rising and energy companies arousing ire, our team had thought that bulk-buying products and services would be a great way of bringing peoples’ bills down.

We’d spoken to several groups who ran bulk-buy deals, which had helped us to identify several problem areas, such as how might the produce be distributed, and how much choice people would have over the goods they received.

Yet up in Walthamstow, peoples’ concerns were different. Even when recognising that saving money through bulk-buy schemes was a ‘good idea’, it was always an idea for someone else. “I feel this bulk-buy idea is second best to having flourishing local shops,” One woman remarked. “Even if it cost me more, I’d still want to support my local shops.”

Fionn Talking with Walthamstow Residents

The sentiment was echoed throughout our stay. “I’d rather there was an attempt to build neighbourliness in a small area,” said one man, who didn’t trust his energy supplier and yet hadn’t switched in 15 years. “The more connected to things and the better you know people, the better you feel so the less you need to spend.”

Guests of The Mill seemed to pine for community, and also expressed real enjoyment from sharing their money saving experiences – yet admitted to never having done so before we, as a group of strangers, had started the conversation.

Other recognised themes came to the fore too. When in financial trouble, people tended to rely on their social and familial connections, turning to public services often as a last resort. “I racked up £25,000 worth of debt with payday loans,” one woman told us. “Eventually I went to my father.”

Significantly, most people mentioned transition periods as being those that put the biggest pressure on their budgets. Moving from benefits to work or from two wage earners to one was a frequent concern, and something that has come up time and again in our research.

“I’ve learned my lesson with payday loans,” the woman continued, “but I’m just about to start a new job, and am quite worried about the changes that will bring to my money”

Mosaic Group at The Mill

If visiting The Mill served to dash our appetite for bulk buying, it also offered an array of fruitful alternatives. A “We Love Low Cost Living” event brought contacts with the local credit union and housing association, both willing to set up focus groups and eager to collaborate with future service designs.

After a long weekend The Mill had given us a lot – not just bellies full of free leek soup and foraged natural teas, but also greater insights into what people do and don’t want from the things that will save them money. That alone is useful food for thought.

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