MerchSearch App

An app to enable teammates (associates) to become better, more knowledgeable guides along the in-store customer journey


Dick's Sporting Goods (DSG) is the largest sporting goods retail company in the US with approximately 850 brick & mortar stores across three brands (Dick’s, Golf Galaxy, and Field & Stream). In addition to these physical locations, DSG has a strong e-commerce presence that generates upwards of $1 billion in revenue annually.

DSG engaged Pivotal Labs both to learn modern agile software practices and to investigate a rather sweeping in-store question: “A customer comes to a Dick’s store with an idea of what product they want to buy yet they leave without it. Why?" We aligned on some additional goals to help frame our investigation, chief among them to create a frictionless experience that increases sales, customer satisfaction, and empathy for in-store associates.

The team was fairly large given the mandate and frequent need to be out in stores conducting research. We had 2-3 Product Managers (client & ~2 Pivotal); 2-3 Product Designers (client & ~2 Pivotal, including me); and 4 Developers (2 client & 2 Pivotal). My role spanned everything from research and UX to visual design and branding.

Problem Space

To explore the central question, we conducted a wide variety of exercises in order to understand the key problems:

  • Spoke with 23 stakeholders from across the company to better leverage their insights and understand common concerns

  • Created a customer journey map that helped us generate assumptions in need of validation

  • Visited eight stores and conducted 63 exploratory interviews with customers, associates, and store management

  • Leveraged online store reviews (e.g. from Yelp & Google), existing feedback from Medallia (a third-party customer feedback platform) surveys, and a mountain of store research conducted by the in-house Customer Insights team

  • Compiled nearly 650 data points into a data wall, grouping them by source, and used them to identify 43 user pains and 44 insights

  • Prioritized both user pains & insights to identify our top three of each

Three people stand at a store checkout. One shows another the price tag on a pair of gloves.
Two people read sticky notes with research findings posted on a whiteboard
Image of a two-by-two matrix which maps out the top user pains uncovered in research


Having brought our stakeholders back together to align on our top pains & insights, we shifted into solution mode:

  • Visited 19 brick-and-mortar retail stores in NYC—both in and out of the sporting goods space—that we felt were doing unique things in order to gather inspiration

  • Converted our problem & insight statements into "How might we?" questions in order to support solution generation

  • Generated 80+ unique potential solutions and prioritized them based on business value & user value to give us our top 3 ideas

  • Gathered additional data from across the company to narrow our focus down to the top idea

  • Conducted a lean experiment to determine the value of the top idea in two stores, collecting 117 customer data points in our control period and interacting with 37 customers during the test itself

  • Learned that our solution did not solve the problem and decided to pivot to a new idea based on what we had uncovered via qualitative research during our lean experiment

  • Conducted a lightning-fast two day solution framing and landed on the solution that would eventually become MerchSearch

Piece of paper with brainstormed ideas stuck to it using sticky notes
Three people role play a retail research session in a fake store to make sure research can run smoothly when done for real
Five people stand in front of a whiteboard with a large two-by-two matrix and discuss the top solution ideas
Two customers talk with a cashier at a checkout terminal
Image of supporting evidence for the top three solution ideas with sticky dots on the highest voted one
Image of a pro-con list used to decide where to pivot next after the initial solution failed

MerchSearch offers “in the moment” product information for all store associates so they can quickly couple their understanding of the customer’s needs with DSG’s deep product knowledge in order to guide shoppers to a suitable product. The following video depicts the version of MerchSearch that we deployed to a single store during our initial pilot. See the app identity up close.


The project ran for approximately 5 months, with the last 2 weeks spent back at the client’s offices helping the team transition. During the last month of our engagement we launched a small pilot in a handful of stores to fanfare from both store employees & DSG leadership.

In the ensuing months, the product rolled out in all 850 stores nationwide, was touted in a DSG earnings call and in a spotlight Wall Street Journal article, and has earned the praise of many store associates (including one who called it “a godsend” and asked “why didn’t they do this years ago?”).

At a Store Manager Leadership Conference (an event that almost all DSG store managers across the country attend; pictured below), the CTO announced the product—and the technology organization’s shift to a customer-centric software development approach.

As of 2019, MerchSearch handles 40k+ product scans per day and is being used in exciting, unexpected ways. In the words of one of our DSG product team members: "We joke that it’s kind of a Swiss Army knife for product info and inventory because teammates continually find new ways to use it in new situations—this hearkens back to one of our initial insights that by giving teammates flexible tools, they will innovate."

Image of the DSG CTO introducing MerchSearch on stage at the store managers conference