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Venmo Research: What's money between friends?

 

 

 

 

 

As payment integrations within messaging experiences become more common, I independently led a competitive analysis on Venmo to explore how the mobile payment app is making financial activity amongst emerging adults more enjoyable, and how Google's Android Messages team can improve the experience of sending money through a messaging app.

 

The Opportunity

Mobile Wallet Transactions in the US are seeing considerable growth.

Mobile Wallet Transactions in the US are seeing considerable growth.

Payments are increasingly being incorporated into messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, and iMessage. However engagement with payment features in messaging apps do not appear to be as prominent as with stand-alone mobile payment apps like Square Cash and Zelle. 

I led this research project to provide the Android Messages team with tactical insights in regard to building a reliable, safe, convenient, and enjoyable payment experience in messaging. 

The Communications Product Area within Google aims to build products that facilitate meaningful personal communications and connections for people worldwide. With this study I also examined how people are using Venmo to enhance their social relationships and connect with others, through expressive content like emojis.   


The Process

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I begun my research by examining past literature on peer-to-peer transactions both in developed and developing markets. In addition, I led conversations with 10 stakeholders, including Interaction Designers, Product Managers, and UX Directors across the Google Payments and Android Messages teams to identify and prioritize research questions relevant to emerging but critical product features.

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Recent data privacy laws, and the taboo nature of conversations about money meant that I needed to be especially prudent and mindful in designing my study.  Determining the best research methods to employ and how to design the study required me to take into account the following; 

  • How long it will take to get the most important information and insights?

  • Are visual records of participants' reactions necessary to capture?

  • Is there a salient need to follow up and delve deeper on any questions?

  • How can we create a comfortable lab environment for early and effective rapport development ? – this was an important consideration because we are asking participants questions about a particularly sensitive topic, financial behavior.

 
(Initial) design for Venmo research study: employs mixed quantitative and qualitative methods.

(Initial) design for Venmo research study: employs mixed quantitative and qualitative methods.

I employed unstructured interviews which enabled participants to re-visit more recent experiences sending money through their mobile device - this helped them not only narrate accounts situated in lived experience rather than mere stories , but also overcome limitations of memory.

I implemented in-person interviews in order to gain a fine-textured understanding of beliefs, attitudes and values of Venmo users, as well as create a comfortable environment for rapport building. I de-prioritized video capture of participants' faces, because although a participant's visual reaction may be more consequential in a usability study, I did not feel it was necessary in such foundational research. Alternatively, I implemented a simple lab design with audio recording of participants' voices, and video capture of their devices as they walked through their more recent experiences sending money through Venmo and other apps. 

The survey included 5-point scale questions, single choice questions, and multiple answer questions.

The survey included 5-point scale questions, single choice questions, and multiple answer questions.

I fielded a follow-up survey in order to asses the generalizability of insights from the unstructured interviews.

I tied survey questions to simple but actionable objectives and insights.

I randomized the order of multiple and single answer choices to prevent primacy effects and any satisficing biases. 

I avoided asking respondents about newer Venmo features that participants in interviews did not have much experience with (ie: purchasing online through Venmo). I only asked questions about past behavior that respondents could easily interpret and answer validly.

 


Insights and Findings

Venmo is popularly used for payments towards group expenses, and restaurant/bar charges.

Venmo is popularly used for payments towards group expenses, and restaurant/bar charges.

People generally like being able to personalize their transactions.

Participants used emojis to say something clever or crack a joke – helping to create a fun memory of an outing. Emojis used with text aided in recollection for budgeting purposes.

Funny Venmo descriptions help reinforce group cohesion and bonding. Participants accounts show that emojis can be used show inclusion and distinctiveness within and between a participant’s friend group and out-groups. This data in these findings are consistent with optimal distinctiveness theory in sociology psychological theory (Brewer, 2003).

Some people like the Venmo feed, while others are indifferent about it.

Many participants were not interested in viewing the transactions of people they did not know well. For them, the Venmo feed felt uninteresting, and at times creepy – largely because it shows transactions of a lot of weak ties. Venmo may benefit from building a feed from content around the edges linking the nodes of a user’s social graph.

The Venmo feed was frequently bypassed by participants. Most participants felt that the task-driven design flow adopted by Square Cash is more ergonomic and efficient.

The Venmo feed was frequently bypassed by participants. Most participants felt that the task-driven design flow adopted by Square Cash is more ergonomic and efficient.


Future Work & Improvements

With more resources, I would conduct a MaxDiff analysis to asses how important people feel communicative/social features are relative to more ‘traditional’ features in P2P mobile payment applications. In addition, I would be able to get a representative reflection of most valued features in the P2P mobile payment application space.