Redesigning the Fridge with Whirlpool

Whirlpool Refrigerator Report

Over the course of two weeks, I interned at Whirlpool and took a brief crash course over the product development cycle. I focused on the refrigerator segment and followed the same process that every product goes through when being developed, and eventually came up with 3 concept features. These weren’t the future of fridges, rather they helped solve existing issues for the fridges of today. In order to describe the entire process, I would have to break up my journey into 4 major steps. Due to the short period of time I had on my side, I was unable to follow the entire process lasting many months; nonetheless, I was still able to learn these steps.

For the first step, I began to benchmark. I had already chosen to focus on refrigerators, now was the time to pick a segment and compare products already existing in the market. I decided to look at the under 40k rupee segment as it is one of the highest volume markets of fridges in India. I went to a couple different stores as if I were a customer and began to observe what features were on the market, which products interested me, and most importantly which products were superior. The market research also involved looking at the sales tactics of the salesmen and what products they tried to sway me towards. After comparing, I settled on a few products that seemed to be the best products in the segment. The LG GL U402 because of its superior storage space, ease of use, good after sales network and value for money. I also looked at a Godrej refrigerator that had a much larger storage capacity than others as well as a brightly colored interior that left a lasting impression on me. Finally, I gave my reasoning for why Whirlpool’s own flagship model in the segment was not on my list. Its three doors added a differentiation between other products, but seemed to add minimal value; in fact, the additional doors even limited valuable storage space.

Taking what I had learned from benchmarking, I now set out to develop a set of features that would make a product people would really buy. To do this, I would need to get insight from the consumers. I talked to other customers buying refrigerators at the stores. I looked at my own refrigerators and identified pain points. And I observed the common usage patterns of people using fridges. From this research, I realized two issues that had not yet been solved in any of the fridges in the market. Firstly, accessibility to the back of the fridge was minimal. Users would often have to rearrange and empty the fridge just to reach a single item in the back. Secondly, I noticed that over half the time someone is opening a fridge, their hands are occupied. The process to open the fridge is an arduous one with the user sometimes opening the door, running to pick up utensils, and running back to the fridge to catch it before it closes again. Both these pertinent issues had no practical solutions as of yet, and this brought me to the next step: problem-solving.

In order to solve these problems and many others, I would need to come up with features, so I brainstormed and came up with a multitude of ways to solve both of the problems. Feasibility and practicality eventually made me land on solutions for these two issues. In order to improve accessibility at the back of fridge shelves, I formulated a circular platform that could rotate on fridge shelves. With a simple flick of the wrist, the user would save time and effort. The second solution helped people open the door using their feet when their hands were occupied. It involved a small foot pedal right underneath the door, where after pressing down the door would open enough to place something inside. Both these features were only a few of the many I devised but were most important for solving potent issues.

The last step I followed was consumer testing. Normally this would have been done using focus groups and multiple product tests, but I had limited time. Instead, I interviewed people about the concepts. The primary goal here was to determine whether the consumer liked the idea enough to buy it. Secondary information I gathered included pricing and other suggestions. The rotating turnstile seemed an ingenious solution at first, but after consumer insight, I realized I would have to refine my idea a bit more. Initially, I had thought the circular platform would be raised a bit from the level of the regular shelf, but after concerns over dead space created in the corners, I refined my idea to make it flush with the shelf surface. The mechanical aspects would, in turn, be on the underside of the shelf where space is anyways not used. I also added a small locking mechanism to the platform that prevented it from being turned so that the entire shelf could be used when extra space was needed. For the foot pedal/hands-free access concept, out of the 8 people I interviewed, 100 percent of them said they would value the addition in their own fridges. Although it was a great idea, concerns still arose about some aspects of the concept. Customers were worried about the placement of the pedal under the door because if the door were to open, it would hit their feet; therefore, I tweaked my idea to make the pedal extend towards the side of the fridge.

If I continued this process, I would have prototyped, developed and manufactured, created the product, made a marketing story, and finally put it on the market. Throughout the cycle, I would always be getting insight from the consumers and the whole cycle would continuously repeat itself. After learning so much about the development cycle of any product, I feel much more confided that I will see products in a completely new light. I will always be trying to problem solve and use this development cycle to hopefully bring innovative products to market.

Below you will be able to see the final presentation I created with the concept mockups, ideation process, and consumer insights.

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