Data-driven decisions: finding the right product mix

By Steven Duque

As we near placing the first set of Momba vending machines on university campuses across New England and the northeastern United States, we’re thinking hard about the product selections we make. The limited space within our vending machines to serve our products makes smart inventory selection even more pressing. Most who know me will agree that my natural tendency is to act on my intuition, but experience (including my work at Bullhorn) has taught me that using data to inform our decisions can help us act more wisely and productively than we would without it.

Data-driven decisions and doing the “right” thing

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “It takes less time to do things right than to explain why you did it wrong.” Although Longfellow was likely referring to ethical decisions, the adage applies to the Momba’s approach to identifying the “right” product mix to best serve students’ needs. Rather than shooting first and asking questions later, we conducted a survey last month to help us identify which products we should initially serve in our machines. Making poor choices in our inventory selection isn’t an option, so we’re using real data – collected through research – to drive our decisions.

Momba Student Survey results

Over the course of two weeks, 2,265 respondents took the Momba Student Survey survey, hailing from over 384 schools (many from different locations of the same school system). We also included people who are soon going to college (17+ years old) and recent graduates (up to 24 years old). We were blown away by and grateful for the responses (thank you!).

The survey validated many of the assumptions we had about the needs Momba is addressing, our use of vending machines, and some of the products we plan to serve. Other aspects of our findings, however, led us to entirely eliminate some products, like underwear and socks, that we had originally thought would be staple items. As someone who found himself lacking both more often than not in college, I was certainly surprised.

Findings: needs, solutions & delivery

Altogether, a whopping 91 percent of respondents indicated that they need/ed essential dorm items after nearby shops have/had closedNine percent told us that they need/ed them all of the time, 30 percent said 2-3 times per week, 27 percent said 2-3 times per month, 19 percent said 2-3 times per semester, and only 9 percent said almost never. This is promising, especially in light of the fact that over half (52 percent) of the respondents go/went to school in urban areas, where they have/had easier access to 24/7 convenience stores.

In fact, respondents said that they were three times as likely to buy essential items from a vending machine in their dorms than nearby 24/7 convenience stores (27 percent versus 9 percent). Unsurprisingly, the vast majority (58 percent) indicated that product selection and brands ultimately determine whether they would choose either option to serve their needs. The remaining 6 percent don’t/didn’t have access to 24/7 convenience stores near their schools’ campuses.

The most popular items in the survey results were: body soap, deodorant, razors, laundry detergent and shampoo (*an audible sigh of relief from mothers and hygienists everywhere). Beyond toiletries, plastic cups (surprise, surprise!), phone chargers, earbuds and black stretchy pants were also very popular. For the full extent of our initial product mix, you’ll have to visit your local Momba machine. Those who aren’t near one will soon be able to buy and send Momba care packages to others (or for themselves!) via our website, so stay tuned!

Broad strokes, fine touches and constant feedback

Our work isn’t done with this first pass at soliciting feedback; different needs will certainly surface from campus to campus. What’s essential to one person may not even register for another. Students’ dorm life needs at a liberal all-women’s college, for example, are likely very different from the needs of students at a religious, co-ed school. The broad strokes that our initial survey results helped us identify are only a starting point; the finer touches will be refined through continually garnering feedback from the people whom we serve.

As I mentioned in my first post, we can’t succeed if Momba machines are serving things that students don’t want and are delivering an experience that sucks. To that end, Momba student entrepreneurs (I’m excited to introduce you to the first Momba entrepreneurs in the near future!) and the Momba team will be using surveys, sales trends and anecdotal feedback to continually leverage data to improve our product mix at various locations. As a lean start-up, we’d rather spend our time doing the right thing than explaining why we did it wrong.

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