Unlocking the Network


Unlocking the network

FiveStars is a loyalty program for 12,000 businesses serving over 22 million customers. The majority of business owners and their customers believe they are enrolled in one program for one particular store. In reality, they are all part of a wider commercial network that, with some work, can potentially connect local businesses nationwide.


Project Details

Duration: Apr 2016 - Sep 2016

Role: Lead UX designer & researcher for the in-store experience

Skills: concept testing, sketching, interaction design, animation, usability testing, field research (planned & executed)

Deliverables: sketches, wireframes, prototypes, animations, research plan

Team: 2 designers, 3 engineers, 1 data analyst, 1 PM, 1 PMM, 1 QA

FiveStars is a comprehensive marketing program that helps small businesses succeed in customer acquisition and retention. Currently, both business owners and their customers mentally model the loyalty program as a 1:1 relationship. Unbeknown to them, they have all joined a network: merchants can reach out to potential new customers, and customers can get rewarded at any FiveStars business. As part of a larger company initiative, we seek to unlock the network by:

  • Expanding outreach to customers shared by local FiveStars stores

  • Boosting connections between businesses by incentivizing customers to shop nearby

  • Rewarding exploration of the network

  • Adding friends to the network in-store, which lead to benefits out-of-store


Fivestars Today

FiveStars' product ecosystem has to deliver a robust, engaging experience for three types of users with different needs and wants:

  • Merchants: gain new customers, retain old customers, and compete with other businesses

  • Cashiers: do the defined job in order to get paid

  • Consumers: get good deals and make desirable purchases without much effort

There are a host of issues with the way FiveStars currently works. Unlocking the Network is the first step towards improving the overall rewards program concept.


1:1 Mental Model

Business owners currently view FiveStars as their store-specific rewards program and their cashiers pitch it as such. Nothing about the in-store product suggests that FiveStars rewards are available at other stores. In many cases, unless customers happen to walk into another FiveStars store, they won't realize the program exists elsewhere.

Reward Structure Inconsistency

Historically, FiveStars has allowed business owners to freeform customize their rewards structure. At different stores, customers can earn points per dollar, points per visit, or points per item toward rewards that could literally take years or large amounts of money to earn. This creates an inconsistent customer experience between FiveStars stores.

FiveStars is a one point per dollar system, right? Or is it one point per visit? I don’t remember how it works.
— New FiveStars Customer

No Brand Recognition

The combination of the previous two issues means that an overwhelming number of customers don't know they're using FiveStars even if they've been enrolled for years. Without a strong, marketable identity, FiveStars will face difficulty continuing to scale as a business.


Goals for Unlocking the Network

Universal Points

All FiveStars points are earned by visiting any merchant (an automatic 100 points) and getting 10 points per $1 spent. Earning points at ABC Café and at QT Boutique both contribute toward the customer earning status.

Status Tiers

A customer who earns 1500 points becomes a Super Star who gets an automatic 10% off at every store in the FiveStars network. Achieving this status incentivizes either return visits or visits to other stores.


Customers get extra points when they add friends to the network. Each time a friend checks in, spends money, or redeems a deal at a FiveStars store, the customer automatically earns points as well. The more friends a user has, the faster they will earn points.


ideation & iteration 


The design team each narrowed down from a bunch of ideas one promising idea to test. I collected each of these ideas and generated prototypes to begin initial testing/ideation

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Concept Testing

i led the concept testing and wrote the script for it. Created 3 initial prototypes to collect feedback. i led a team of 1 other designer, 1 design intern, and an engineer to do our initial tests. We went out and did quick café studies to get initial impressions that helped us rule out interactions/concepts that got extremely negative or critical reactions.


Designing New Interaction

next i explored 10+ concepts and did lots of hallway testing to try and minimize taps and linespeed while maximizing understanding, ease of use.

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Adding a Friend

i worked with 1 other designer on improving the visuals (who is also doing our rebrand). Also important was trying to figure out how to allow people to add friends

 because our interface was going to involve animations, I created a prototype to model as closely as possible to the final thing. engineers used it as reference when coding. 

being developed at the same time was an out-of-store experience to follow this in-store experience. because the user's time with the tablet was likely to be short and rushed, the mobile experience was more likely to get more view-time and allow us to put in more comprehension. it would also surface the possibility of letting users know that other nearby fivestars stores were offering deals.

After visiting a FiveStars store, users get a mobile web receipt showing their point total, why they should earn points, how to earn more points, and more.

After visiting a FiveStars store, users get a mobile web receipt showing their point total, why they should earn points, how to earn more points, and more.

Field Research

finally, we did research after we launched with 15 merchants in Capitola, CA beginning on July 13. i put together a research plan with 1 other designer, writing scripts and objectives, as well as guides for the engineers/product people going who had never conducted field research before.


overall, we were able to collect insights from observation, interviews, and camera footage that will inform our next round of designs.


In order to address the problem space, FiveStars' in-store experience was to be held to the following metrics:

  • Capture half of all social check-ins (20% of all check-ins) on CTS

  • Make sure social check-ins are equal to or less than two separate check-ins

  • Drive a 10% increase in signups

  • Maintain or exceed current redemption rates

  • No drop in core metrics of health (signup and return visit rate, reward redemption)


what worked:

we got people to sign up and check in with their friends w/o severely impacting line speed, [QUOTE: it was easy] you know what rewards you have, and you can learn how many points you get 

what didn't work

  • People don't recognize that they're signing up for FiveStars

  • They don't have a clear customer journey (what can they do next, where can they go, what can they expect to get out of continuing w/ FiveStars)

  • they don't know how to easily describe FiveStars, which impacts natural Word of Mouth

  • that they are signing up for a network (no discoverability)

  • merchants want to motivate their cashiers to sign people up, want cashier tracking

  • wanted a list/map of participating business

  • don't know how customers are keeping track of their progress toward status


what i want to do

  • drive a stronger FTUE experience across all the products (one-liner of what fivestars is)

  • provide better discoverability of other stores

    • ask marketing to market our presence better

  • take another look at the products and question if they are the right ones for the best experience

  • Implement FiveStars Network Matching, which helps local businesses attract more FiveStars members who aren't yet members at their stores. merchants who sign up more than 20 customers per week get a 1 for 1 promotion sent out to the customer network about their business. $0.30 - $0.50 cost for direct mail or flyers. One merchant gained 108 new reachable customers within 4 weeks. Produces new business by quality customers from an existing network of customers.

You know [FiveStars customers are] already established in a loyalty program. I’m confident in our product, so, knowing that they like loyalty programs I’m sure [we’ll see more] return visits. It’s a win-win situation.
— Kat Moon, Kalapawai Market Cafe & Deli