What is a pawnshop?

A pawnbroker/pawnshop is an individual or business that offers secured loans to people, with items of personal property used as collateral. The items having been pawned to the broker are themselves called pledges or pawns, or simply the collateral.

What does pawnguru do?

  • Currently, Pawnguru, is a web-based desktop platform that connects users to various pawnshops in their local areas to access quick credit.

  • A customer puts in a request to sell/pawn an item that reaches the various nearby pawnshops via pawnguru's platform. 

  • Pawnguru charges the pawnshops for a monthly subscription while there are no charges for the users who wish to sell/pawn items.

The first step in designing anything is not to ask how it should look but whether it even should be! — Charles Eames

Why do pawnshop owners need Pawnguru mobile app?

The study below focusses on the research done with pawnshop owners to understand the need for a mobile app and if they do, how to design the best possible prototype.

The Problem

1. Pawn shops are interruption-driven workplaces run by busy owners who are  regularly interacting with customers on a non-stop basis.


Image: Busy pawnshops on a weekday at 10 AM(Left) and Saturday 8AM (Right)

2. The pawnshops owners are busy with the offline customers in shops and do not often check their desktops to interact with PawnGuru’s platform

3. Due to unresponsiveness on the desktop website to the customers, the owners, at times, lose out on customers and want a real-time notification on the devices more ubiquitous to them.

The project objectives

  1. Research how pawnshop owners interact with PawnGuru’s current platform and its features.

  2. Understand if pawnshop owners would use the mobile application more conveniently than a desktop website while multitasking in the shops.

  3. Understanding the features on the website which are valuable from a user point of view by examining the current workflows.

  4. Design a mobile application prototype that meets the goal of engaging well into the pawnshop owners’ work routine to help them better interact with their customers, thus increasing the number of deals they close.

Good user experience doesn’t guarantee success, but a bad one nearly always leads quickly to failure.! —  Elizabeth Goodman

The Process

Apart from being the UX designer for the team, I was also appointed as the product manager to lead the project. In that responsibility, I helped the team put together a process to be followed to achieve our objectives in the given time frame. 

UX Research using contextual inquiry

We interviewed 4 pawnshop owners who were the users of the Pawnguru desktop platform. To make sure we cover various geographical locations we performed on-site interviews with pawnshops in Dearborn(Michigan) and Brighton(Michigan) and two on-call interviews with users in Florida and Georgia

Image: Team conducting interviews in Dearborn (left) and Brighton (right) with the pawnshop owners in the shop.

After performing the qualitative analysis using the concept of affinity walls, we came up with our key themes and insights. They looked something like this:

Image: Affinity walls to highlight themes from the qualitative analysis of the interviews. Click to view larger image.

Our review of the pawnshop owner’s experience on PawnGuru revealed the following findings relevant to our project:

  • Deals closed strictly online. Owners have expressed frustration that it is difficult to know the quality of an item with only a sparse description and that customers often fail to provide them detailed information or photos of the item.

  • Repetitive messages to customers. The messages that pawnshop owners send to customers are usually along the lines of “can you bring the item to our shop?” or “can you give me more details about the item?”

  • Need for effective customer-owner interaction. It is important that both the customer and owners be responsive to successfully close a deal.

  • Preference for selected category. For instance, some owners would always buy handbags, while others are unwilling to deal with them at all.

  • Feature usability varies from owner to owner. Some pawnshop owners wish to buy items, but some sell items to their customers on a regular basis.

  • Picture uploading issue. The owners expressed dissatisfaction around the way photo uploading works with desktop applications.

  • Real-time notifications. The owners pointed out that real-time mobile notifications can be more helpful in the successful closure of deals.

We deduced that the majority of pawnshop owners need a more ubiquitous platform that helps them to be more connected with the online customers with simplified experience to easily navigate through their tasks!

Workflow analysis

The strategy was to first study all the current workflows as they exist today and then reiterate through them for improvisations based on the findings above.


The green post-its in the images below show the changes we suggest as a team in the workflow 

Based on our discussion, the team constructed each workflow modified from the findings from our research and the discussion of each workflow.

1. Browse workflow

Based on our discussion, we constructed the above workflow of the browse page, which is also the landing page of the application. The key feature changes were:

  • Add filters to the posted items, according to user research showing that pawnshops owners are interested in selected categories.

  • We kept PawnGuru’s “Not Interested” feature for the items so that owners can continue to ignore the requests that they are not interested in.

  • Once an item is selected, the user has the option of “making a deal” and “contacting” the customer.

  • Automated message selection while the user contacts the customer.

2. Retail Workflow

The retail feature is where customers can send requests to local pawnshop owners regarding specific items they are interested in purchasing. The key feature changes were:

  • Customers can simply post a request to buy a certain item, which will then show up on the local pawn shop owners’ “retail” page.

  • Owners also have the option of directly making a phone call to the customer, as well as removing a request from their ‘retail’ page.

  • We decided to add an option where owners can upload a picture of the item for the customer with a simple message to the owner - "The items are more likely to get sold if you upload pictures of your item"

3. Chat Workflow

The chat feature is where the owners and customers can communicate over the details of the item. The key feature changes were:

  • We decided to add filters and sorting functions to the message list based on the type of sale.

  • When the user is in his/her chat window, they have easy access to the profile page of the customer and the item they are discussing through one tab.

  • We added to the flow the option for pawnshop owners to make an offer and to give details to PawnGuru if the deal was closed. 

  • Autocomplete features were added while typing the message.

Paper prototyping

We built the paper prototypes of each flow meticulously with all the important feedback and details. The paper prototypes were then tested by the peers at the School of information. 

Digital Prototyping

1. Browse feature:

2. Retail feature: ​​

3. Chat feature:


Learnings about users- the pawnshop owners :

  • They are not traditional tech-savvy users

  • They are only concerned about making deals and increasing their business

  • They have busy schedules working offline in the shops

  • They check the Pawnguru only fixed number of times a day on their desktop

Learnings while designing a mobile product for these users:

  • Refrain from adding complicated gestures and actions

  • Help them reach their business quickly and seamlessly

  • Help them receive instant notifications on the deal development.

  • Make the flow familiar to the existing website so that onboarding on a mobile app is easier for all shop members.

This was an interesting project in my endeavor to understand the population of users who have fair access to technology but have always run their business offline. Understanding their velocity to get on board with ubiquitous devices is a challenging task and I am more eager to delve into this subject.

Team Shebuilds presenting at the University of Michigan Exposition!