Questions to Ask in Omni-Channel UX Research: Insights from a Mobile Wallet Study in Sao Paulo

Ten years into my career as a usability researcher based in Dallas, Texas, I had an opportunity to run a usability test on a mobile wallet in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

As a female traveling alone who didn’t speak the local language, I knew I needed to do some research on what to expect. After reading many articles that warned of safety concerns, I re-evaluated my packing list and went shopping: money belt, check. Radio-frequency identification-blocking sleeves for my credit cards and passport, check. Removal of “fancy” clothing and jewelry from my suitcase, check.

I even registered online with the U.S. Department of State in their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so I would be notified of emergencies in the area I was traveling. I obtained my visa, scheduled transportation from the airport to my hotel, and printed out the picture of the driver so I would recognize him at the airport.

Never before had I gone to this extent of preparation for traveling abroad, and I wondered whether all of it was necessary. I also wondered how safety concerns might impact the lives of the people who I would be working with, as well as how it would affect my usability study. As it would turn out, safety was a critical differentiating aspect of the mobile experience for Brazilians in the study. This insight led me to identify critical questions to ask for future omni-channel User Experience research projects to ensure cultural context is considered.

Jeitinho Brasileiro: the Brazilian Way of Doing Things

After an uneventful flight and my first Caipirinha (the Brazilian national drink) upon arrival in Sao Paulo, I finally got to talk with local test participants about their mobile phone usage, security concerns, and mobile wallets; these conversations were very interesting and revelatory.

For example, although none of the participants had used a mobile wallet, most assumed it would keep all of their payment information digitally in one place. In real life, some participants carried not only money and a physical wallet but also a token key (see Figure 1) or key card with a list of codes they needed to complete a purchase either in a store or online.

Photo showing an automatically generated token number

RSA SecurID Token Key

Others said that they needed to receive a text message with a code from their bank on their phones to complete a purchase. Due to these necessary devices and processes to prevent unauthorized transactions, all participants were intrigued by the idea of a mobile wallet. It would eliminate the need to carry money or a physical wallet and would alleviate their concerns about theft and/or the safety of the personal information in their wallets.

After viewing and using the mobile wallet during the test sessions, all participants said they were inclined to use it if it were available to them. The wallet required inputting a PIN code for access, which gave them a sense of security for making online and in-store purchases.

However, although participants appreciated the security features of the wallet, they also said they wouldn’t feel comfortable using it in all physical locations or situations.

For example, some participants never used their mobile phones in public places for fear of theft. Others would only use their phones when no one was looking, for the same reason. Even the Portuguese translator assisting on this test agreed with the participants, saying, “I would never use my phone in public. If I am on the bus and the phone rings in my purse, I ignore it and pretend that it isn’t my phone ringing.”

These comments corroborated warnings on the U.S. State Department website for U.S. citizens traveling abroad: “Please be cautious when using mobile phones in public areas, and consider waiting until you are inside a safe area before using your phone.”

The Daily Mail was even more explicit: “Don’t use your mobile phone in public in Rio. And if you do, and someone tries to nick it, don’t argue. Muggers often kill victims who resist.”

Furthermore, a study of the differences between 6,500 U.S. and Latin American consumers revealed differences in perceived security: “North Americans were least cautious when it came to taking precautions such as password protection and special apps to combat malware. Latin Americans were most prudent on that score.”

My own interactions with the Brazilian participants made it clear that these security concerns were, in fact, applicable to everyday life in Brazil. It was obvious to me that Brazilians had more to worry about than U.S. consumers with regard to mobile devices, and these concerns changed according to the context and location of their use. As Adriana de Souza e Silva, associate professor at North Carolina State University, said in her chapter in Societies and Cities in the Age of Instant Access, “The mobile interface is used significantly differently in distinct parts of the world, depending on cultural, social, and economic local specificities. Even within specific countries and regions, there are substantial differences in the use of technology as a result of many factors, including age, culture, socioeconomic distribution, and instructional level.”

Connecting Context-Specific Behavior and Omni-Channel Research

After I returned home to the U.S., I considered what I had learned and observed about mobile usage, safety, and security and how this information could apply to other usability tests I conduct. I also thought about what new knowledge I could share with my colleagues and whether my learnings could enhance any of our work or future research.

While mulling this over, the topic of omni-channel strategy crossed my mind, as it is a current interest of my company and some of our clients. In a nutshell, an omni-channel strategy seeks to provide a seamless and consistent experience across multiple channels, including web, mobile, email, social media, and in-store. A primary concern at my company is how to best uncover the user story with regard to omni-channel strategy, and how to adjust methodology in the lab to capture this information. Specifically, how should we alter typical usability research to find answers to omni-channel questions?

Although a typical usability study may consist of a participant looking at one website on one device, omni-channel research may have a participant look at several versions of the site on different devices, according to their personal usage and needs.

My mobile wallet study in Brazil demonstrated that unlike typical usability research where usability findings are often applicable to the general population regardless of location, omni-channel research results may vary across different contexts. For example, if U.S. participants have difficulty finding the “My Account” feature on a site, similar usability results are likely in other countries and cultures. However, if participants don’t use their phones in certain areas or times due to security concerns, their expectations of the functionality, as well as their needs, may differ from people who use their mobile phone in public without hesitation. In this case, omni-channel research may show that people who curtail their device usage in public due to security concerns may expect more or different functionality based on their specific needs.

Due to this, omni channel research should begin with general questions such as:

  • What, where, when, and how does the target market want to learn about, compare, and buy products or consume information?
  • How does the learning, comparing, buying, and information uptake actually happen? Why is there a difference?
  • What device(s) do they use? When do they use those devices? What do they do on the device?
  • Are all features, functionality, and content expected on each device?
  • What challenges block users’ access to technology? How do they overcome these challenges?

Questions to help tease out nuances in areas of concern:

Area of Concern Questions
  • Do users have the ability to purchase or use more than one device?
  • Are there tariffs on goods from other countries that make purchasing technology prohibitive?
  • Is internet access widely and consistently available? Is it affordable?
  • Are users up to date with current technology and its features or do economic challenges make this prohibitive?
  • Do safety concerns limit the usage of the device?
  • Does this change when devices are used or a users’ dependence on them?
  • Does that change how people feel about the technology?

Although this is not a full list of questions, it is a good starting point when looking at the best ways to uncover omni-channel answers. This list will undoubtedly evolve over time based on specific products, brands, experience with omni-channel, as well as changing needs and expectations around the globe.

Certainly, consideration of the cultural context of a product’s intended audience is critical for omni-channel research, especially for international locations as researchers must determine how, when, and where these behaviors differ.

Overall, in spite of the security concerns and my initial focus on personal safety in Sao Paulo, I found that the Caipirinhas and warm, kind-hearted Brazillian people that I met made for a wonderful trip. It was these safety concerns that unexpectedly led to ideas on conducting omni-channel research; they also reminded me that UX practitioners should always be ready for the unexpected and be astute observers outside of the lab.

Acknowledgments: For their suggestions on this manuscript, I thank Linda Hwang and Hillori Hager.

Mauck, K. (2014). Questions to Ask in Omni-Channel UX Research: Insights from a Mobile Wallet Study in Sao Paulo. User Experience Magazine, 14(4).
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