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For Inclusive Research, Expansive Terminology is Key

Diverse research is more than just age, location, and gender. Best Buy shares how they have expanded their scope—and plan to keep iterating.

Words by Vidhya Subramanian, Lori Baker, and LaJaun Willis, Visuals by Maggie Moore

When conducting research on products or experiences, we often talk about how we listen to our users to foster confidence in the final design, with the goal of making something that works for the majority of our users.

But in the past, the user research industry has largely focused on a variety of ages, locations, and genders only. Ethnic diversity and disabilities were rarely considered. Inclusion and diversity have been a focus at Best Buy for years, but we wanted to set more specific guidelines within our qualitative research team on how to be inclusive. In particular: Build on our commitment to improving inclusion, diversity, and equity in our company—and for communities to create equitable experiences and “an environment that has a deep value and respect for diversity”.

This statement inspired us to shape an inclusive research strategy that included:

  • Set guidelines for diversity for the research we complete
  • Ensure our participants feel comfortable selecting the terms that accurately describe how they identify
  • Report on the diversity in research completed in year prior
  • Partner with our vendors and the larger research community to keep learning

To set guidelines, we gathered ethnicity, gender, and disability terminology frequently used in the industry on forms and surveys. Once that was done, we gathered as a team and discussed how to make these terms more inclusive. We reviewed these options with our inclusion, diversity and equity team and put together a list we felt we could use, before discussing it with our vendors.

During these discussions, it became even more clear how important using preferred terminology is to conducting research. We sent out a survey within the BIPOC, non-binary, and disability communities, gathered recommendations, and shared those with our respective employee resource groups.

Findings from the survey and those discussions included:

  • Non-binary is an umbrella term and there are more gender options that should be included
  • Alphabetize all selections to remove bias by showing a hierarchy
  • Only ask about disabilities that need to be considered for specific functionalities
  • As terminologies evolve, study and improve on them yearly

In addition to updating our screeners, we added a couple of questions both to the screener and after the tasks were completed, to better understand how we can be more inclusive.

The ways people identify are constantly evolving, and self-identification may differ by geographic location, age, culture, race, ethnicity, etc.

As a result, there is a need to continue to:

  1. Update the terminology we use as it evolves
  2. Structure our data collection and analytics in such a way that can it be used to identify and validate the needs and experiences of all participants
  3. Monitor cultural shifts to track how perceptions of these terms change
  4. Track the demographics in all of our studies and identify underrepresented groups
  5. Revise recruitment strategies with the aim to increase representation in marginalized groups
  6. Collect feedback on the demographic terms used and measure/track incremental changes in our participants’ perceptions of these terms

Reporting on those guidelines was important to show that our team was doing the work and it showed where we could still improve. There have been some expected benefits and some new opportunities to continue to improve.

What’s going well

Opportunities
✔ More rigor and standardization of recruiting practices✔ More rigor and standardization in analysis and design recommendations
✔ Improved participant pool✔ Continue to evolve on how we ask the questions
✔ Improved visibility and awareness on our teams✔ Continue to uncover blind spots
✔ Increased confidence in findings and recommendations associated to inclusive research✔ Continue to improve our research methods to better accommodate assistive technologies
✔ Continuing to learn from each study on how we can make an experience or feature more inclusive

At Best Buy, our purpose is to enrich lives through technology. As the largest specialty consumer electronics retailer in the U.S., Best Buy is an industry leader for overall customer experience.

In the United States, 61 million adults (one in four) live with some form of disability—which could be mobility, cognitive, hearing, or vision related. With both physical and digital storefronts serving consumers today, identifying how various disabilities can limit and/or increase access to technology products is crucial to Best Buy’s inclusivity vision.

Creating inclusive environments and experiences within the technology retail space is necessary and requires the examination of a wide range of perspectives, scenarios, and use cases.

Being intentional in our inclusive practices requires more than simply encouraging people with disabilities to participate and interact with the world around them. It requires communities to understand and accommodate their needs.

In our ever-increasing technological world, strengthening our understanding of accessibility needs and identifying avenues for improving the accommodations provided is of paramount importance.

This endeavor was instrumental to maintaining an inclusive approach to research, and demonstrating the importance of continuing these initiatives in the future. With the addition of first-hand feedback from individuals with disabilities, Best Buy is now better equipped to address the needs of all customers, and will work continuously to improve and expand our inclusive practices even more in the future.

While we have come a long way in inclusive research, there are always ways we can learn and evolve. The biggest benefit of the research community is the opportunity to continue to learn from one another. If you are interested in partnering with us in this research, please reach out.

Vidhya Subramanian is a Senior Manager at Best Buy with 20+ years of Experience in the IT Industry. She drives the Accessibility program, Design Operations and Disability Inclusion strategy across the business. Outside work, Vidhya loves cooking, traveling and hanging out with her husband and two kids. To get even more nuggets, follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter



Lori Baker is a user experience leader, strategist, and trainer who has been in this industry for over 20 years. Passionate about User Experience and building the infrastructure to support it, she currently consults with fortune 500 companies. Outside work, Lori sews with adults and kids, cooks and bakes, plays in the garden, and is currently attempting to train a puppy. Find her on LinkedIn.



LaJaun Willis Is a User Experience Researcher at Google. He has served as an advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the educational sector for 7 years and currently within the user experience field for 3 years. Outside of work LaJaun likes to rock climb, explore new restaurants around NYC, and draw. LaJaun can be found on LinkedIn.

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