The Boston Public Market is an indoor, year round marketplace for locally sourced groceries and specialty agricultural products, where residents and visitors can find fresh, seasonal food from Massachusetts and New England. The Market houses 40 local farmers, fishers, and food entrepreneurs selling items such as farm fresh produce; meat and poultry; eggs; milk and cheese; fish and shellfish; bread and baked goods; beverages; flowers; and an assortment of specialty and prepared foods. Everything sold at the Market is produced or originates in New England.
The Market's management was looking to expand and improve its digital presence. In particular they wanted to use technology to:
I worked with a group of three other Startup Institute students on this project; the following details my individual contributions. I feel my group was able to make valuable, easily implementable recommendations to the Market on ways to improve their online presence, as well as the general market experience.
Along with one other groupmate, I started off by interviewing several vendors and customers to get a sense of what they felt was working, as well as what could be improved.
• One problem that we immediately identified was that very few of the customers actually knew that everything sold at the market was locally sourced (92% of it from within Massachusetts, and the remainder from elsewhere in New England), despite "giving the public an opportunity to taste, buy, and understand what our region has to offer" being a criticial component of the market's mission. Vendors said that customers routinely asked them for foods that were not local, especially fruits and vegetables (avocadoes and limes, not grown anywhere near Massachusetts, seemed to be the most requested), and were disappointed when they realized that the market was not a fully-stocked grocery store. The vendors felt that the Market could do a better job of communicating that only local, seasonal foods were sold there.
• Vendors also desired additional advertising help from the market's management. Marketing and promoting was, for the most part, left up to each individual vendor, and after some online research we realized that many of the vendors had small, inactive social media presences, or in some cases, no presence at all. Generally, the vendors were not technically savvy, and lacked the time and knowledge to effectively promote their products online. They also felt the large video display in the center of the market was underutilized, and that it could be used to promote, for instance, upcoming special events.
• They also felt that there wasn't nearly enough seating in the building to accomodate customers, and felt they were losing business because of it, as potential customers who would otherwise eat a meal at the market often decided not to when they realized there's no place to sit. Some vendors felt that the market had an "identity crisis," and was trying to be both a grocery store and a food court, but not doing either particularly well.
• When we spoke to customers, they confirmed what we had already heard from vendors: very few of them realized that the market only sold locally-produced foods. There's no signage to explain the market's purpose and mission when visitors enter, which we felt might be part of the issue. They also said they wished there was a directory or map of the market (as it turned out, the market did have a map, but it was not made available to customers).
After our interviews, we looked at the Market's web presence to determine whether improvements could be made to more effectively communicate its message to the public. The home page very briefly mentions fresh, locally-sourced food, but most of what a site visitor sees is an aggregated feed from the Twitter and Instagram accounts of individual vendors:
This feed contains some useful information, but I felt it was cluttered, confusing, and overloaded, and that the home page should be redesigned in order to better communicate the market's mission.
As much as possible, I tried to address the issues the vendors mentioned in our interviews in my home page redesign, with which I tried to accomplish the following:
In addition to the changes to the web site, we made the following recommendations to the market's management:
• Add signage near each entrance to orient the visitor and describe the market's mission. Some customers that I talked to mentioned the sense of mild confusion that they experienced when they first entered the market. Its bustle is certainly a big part of its charm and should in no way be sacrificed, but a simple digital kiosk with a map and basic information, or even a chalkboard and paper maps, could go a long way toward making guests having a better visit. In addition, it would help to differentiate Boston Public Market from competition like Whole Foods, and other nearby marketplaces like Faneuil Hall, which has no particular mission or dedication to quality and local sourcing.
• Make better use of the video screens. When we visited, they were off completely. Use them to promote upcoming special events, or perhaps show videos shot on local farms (if there are any). Consider hiring a video team to visit local vendors offsite and produce videos, which could be shown on these video boards, but, more importantly, on social media as well. One of my teammates designed graphics for the video boards to demonstrate the potential to the client.
• Add additional seating if possible. We realized this fell beyond the scope of what we were asked to do, but vendors felt pretty strongly about it, and we felt it beared repeating to the market's managers.