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Product Flow: how to create a great product experience

Have you ever been excited by a new product, spending hours and hours figuring out how to use it the moment you get it?

That’s exactly how you want your customers to feel. 

After every product launch, businesses want to maximize their returns without investing too heavily in capital. The beauty of the product flow is that it ensures a smooth and joyful experience for the customer and keeps them excited about the product even after the purchase has been completed. 

By leveraging the latent value of existing products and having a systematic approach through product flow management, companies are able to get the most out of their offerings and keep their consumer base satisfied and wanting more. They do that without doing too much in marketing or promotion capital.

What is a product flow

The concept of product flow in product management plays on the user’s interests and attention to ensure that they have an immersive and exciting experience with your brand. A product flow, by definition, refers to “the movement of goods from the supplier to the consumer along with returns and other service requirements” [1]. With that in mind, optimizing your product flow will mean that customers stay longer on the brand’s platform and presence, thus having more goods flow from the point of origin, you, to the end consumer, the customer.

For instance, imagine a customer walking into a retail store without planning to buy anything. By implementing a product flow here, they will be more inclined to make a purchase or spend time understanding the goods, inevitably resulting in a purchase. 

With that in mind, it is important to note that a product flow puts people at the forefront of product management. After all, they are the ones that determine whether a product is successful or not. Product flow is all about giving a user-centric experience to boost retention and satisfaction during the shopping affair.

Why you need a product flow

It can be quite self-explanatory as to why it is crucial to give your customers a happy shopping experience. Diving deeper into the need for a logical product flow, this is put in place to fundamentally alter the consumer’s experience with the product and its associated brand so they are able to perceive the intended value and take the desired action.

Rather than go on about the benefits of one, it may be easier to discuss the repercussions of a lack of product flow. On the flip side, having a product flow that doesn’t make sense can lead to frustration and confusion. Often, the customer gives up on the purchase altogether, even if the product is exactly what they want.

To put things in perspective, a messy product flow could come in the form of a sloppy store layout. When things are uncategorized, hard to reach or find, or just out of sight, customers will just end up displeased and leave.

At its core, a smooth product flow acts as a guide for the downward flow of products, which is, from supplier to customer. It also ensures a logical backward stream, known as the reverse flow, mostly involving product returns.

Creating a product flow for a great product experience

How do brands go about creating a product flow for their customers? Making informed decisions through a series of metrics.

It all starts with the Flow Framework.

Introduced by Dr. Mik Kersten, the Flow Framework “provides the methodology and the vocabulary to systematically relieve the bottlenecks that are slowing down software delivery and impacting business results” [2]. Essentially, this is a blueprint that enables businesses to have higher efficiency and business output by addressing friction points in the entire product experience.

In Project to Product, the Flow Framework was created as a way to explain the disparity between Enterprise IT and the businesses that run them. As digital transformation starts to take the world by storm, many corporations will find that IT systems have become the core of their operations. Organizations across the globe have to start adapting to new world business practices in order to survive in a digital environment.

On the highest tier of the Flow Framework, there are three schools of thought that businesses ought to follow to manage a successful product flow – Flow Metrics, Business Results, and Flow Distribution. This is also known as value stream metrics.

So how can organizations use this as a knowledge map for their product flow?

Using Flow Metrics, digitally-enabled organizations are able to generate measurable effects of their activity. Managers and analysts look at data that encompasses all aspects of the supply chain, including tangible results on, productivity, experience quality, cost, and profit.

Essentially, Flow Metrics provide a high-level overview of all metrics per product value stream and the value provided during product delivery, and how it impacts business results. Senior leaders are able to make informed decisions based on a full set of accurate and valuable data to improve the product flow.

There are a few areas to look at:

Flow Velocity – What is the measurable amount of value delivered through the entire product experience?
Flow Efficiency – Are the areas of friction correctly identified and addressed?
Flow Time – How quickly did said value get delivered and is it optimal?
Flow Load – Is it at an optimal demand and capacity? Are any of these factors exceeding the other?

Moving on to Business Results, these are the aspects that are directly affected by the Flow Metrics. The metrics provide insight and gauge into what kind of business outcomes will result from the current product flow, including value, cost, quality, and happiness.

For instance, Velocity and Time have a direct impact on business value. This refers to the perceived value the customer has of the brand through its experience with the product flow. Another example you could look at is how cutting down on Flow Time will lead to a quicker revenue turnover and boost profit.

The last category of value stream metrics is Flow Distribution. This metric dives into how resources are being allocated and the type of work that moves around the value stream. With this information, senior leaders have a clear idea of where the emphasis lies in the product flow and whether it works from a project management perspective.

At its core, the Flow Distribution gives a bird’s eye view of all types of work and the priorities in each line of work. This level of visibility will allow managers to step in when important work is being overlooked or pushed back for other tasks.

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Using psychology for an optimal experience

Now that the backend operations are optimized for a value stream per product, it is time to take a look at customer experience in a product flow.

When you talk about ‘value’ as a business term, it is, by definition “what the customer gets, like a product or a service of high quality, in a fair period of time at a fair price” [3].

The value stream Flow Framework consists of quantifiable aspects of a successful product flow. Ultimately, it is up to your customers to determine whether or not they have had a great product experience. This is a crucial part of creating a product flow as it encompasses the qualitative parts of creating a product flow – emotions.

This brings us to the concept of the Flow [4].

Working on principles of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that Flow is what drives the “optimal experience”. This maps out the ideal experience through a balance of skill and perceived challenges of the user.

First, it is important to understand that every customer that walks into your store or crosses paths with your brand can be classified under their skill level from beginner to expert. This refers to the level of proficiency and familiarity they have with your business and its specific product offerings. At the same time, each customer will also have a set of perceived opportunities or challenges associated with the product.

The ideal user journey depends on finding the sweet spot where their proficiency level coincides with their perceived opportunities and challenges.

Let’s imagine the following scenarios:

  1. A customer walks into a grocery store that has just opened up (low proficiency) looking with a vague idea of what to buy. However, all the shelves are stocked at the bottom and empty at the top (high level of perceived challenge). They get frustrated and leave.
  2. A mobile phone user goes to the store to get a new charging cable for their phone (high proficiency). The cables are all stocked under a section labeled as such, with each packaging labeling the exact phone model and the compatibility of each phone (low level of perceived challenge). They purchase the cable and have time to browse around, but that is all they bought.
  3. A customer who has an interest in cosmetic products walks into a beauty store (high proficiency) to get an eyeshadow palette. Along the way, there are samples placed along the aisle and attractive new product advertisements (medium level of perceived opportunity). They deviate from their original purpose and purchase more products than expected.

As you can see, the ideal product flow is not just one that gives the customer a seamless, all-in information dump. This sort of approach, while effective on customers with low efficacy and challenge perception, may end up boring or causing anxiety in others.

Are you unknowingly tiring out your customers?

The trick here is to break your customer base down and present an environment that works for each category, such as:

  • Decreasing challenges for high arousal, high efficacy consumers.
  • Decreasing demanding skills for low arousal, high efficacy consumers.
  • Increasing challenges for low arousal, low efficacy consumers.
  • Increasing skills for high arousal, high efficacy consumers.

Asking the right questions

A successful product flow starts with asking the right questions in order to plan the merchandising. What exactly do you need to know before creating a store layout that supports your product flow?

Before anything, you need to understand your product’s category. From here, develop a list of questions that correctly classifies the product’s category, sub-category, segment, and sub-segment so as to determine how it should be laid out for the customer.

For instance, if you are a fast-fashion retailer, a set of pajamas will be classified under the category of apparel. To be more specific, it will be under a sub-category of sleepwear and segmented under silk, or its specific colors or style. With this information, you can further develop a merchandising plan by asking the right questions.

Are there any guidelines for displaying silk pajamas? Sleepwear isn’t typically placed at the front of the store and in the display windows. 

When placed in the intimate wear aisle, how should this be placed? Would it be better to have it hung up or folded on shelves?

All these questions will determine how you display your product for a productive product flow. Of course, it is important to note that there are a vast number of product types, and these are just examples that can be tweaked accordingly.

Get your product flow management right with e-tailize

When it comes to managing and creating a great product flow online, it is important that you have the right tools on board. e-tailize is a marketplace management tool committed to helping partners realize the full value of their products online. We provide an end-to-end solution for retailers. Our one-stop platform also provides important data insights and analysis so that you can make the right decisions. Don’t forget to read our article on how to identify data gaps, and possibly close them with e-tailize.


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