Part of the allure of online shopping is that you don’t have to physically cram the items into a shopping cart or bag, and then get them home. In other words, while the notion of a shopping cart provides a useful metaphor, everyone knows that an online cart can hold a lot more than an old-fashioned metal one.

With this in mind, I was puzzled to encounter a situation where a particular website only allowed you to place one item in their shopping cart at once. If you wanted to buy two or three of the item, you had to repeat the entire ordering process multiple times.

Granted, it took me longer to figure out the scope of the problem than to actually deal with placing two orders. But I think there are several takeaways here. First, try not to place arbitrary limits on how many items customers can buy at the same time. And second, if technical limitations prevent you from providing the expected shopping cart functionality, be sure to tell customers upfront that they’ll need to place multiple orders. Although they may be a little bit surprised by your low-capacity cart, at least people will know what they’re dealing with before they get fed up with a shopping cart that doesn’t seem to work as expected.

No matter how many lists you make, it’s difficult to go on a trip without having to purchase at least one or two things after you get there. In my most recent experience, I needed to buy a particular skin care product that had somehow leaked out and evaporated during the trip. So, I set out to find a replacement at the grocery store.

The name brand version was quite expensive, and I noticed they had a store brand option right next to it. The list of ingredients was identical, so I decided to give it a try. I can’t vouch for the quality of the store brand, since we haven’t actually opened the bottle yet. However, I did notice something curious about how the retailer is marketing it.

Specifically, the name brand version comes in a pump top bottle, while the store brand is just a twist or snap off design. If the retailer went to all the trouble to mimic the ingredients and package colors of the more popular version, why didn’t they emulate the pump part, too?

As far as I know, there’s nothing notable about the pump; it’s probably a generic part that dozens of companies include on their bottles. But for whatever reason, the people designing the store brand opted not to mimic that one aspect of the name brand product. This seems like a missed opportunity. Even though I ended up buying the store’s version based on the list of ingredients alone, I bet a lot of other customers would look at the bottle and quickly dismiss the store brand as functionally inferior, all because the familiar pump top is nowhere to be found.

While seeing some family over the holidays, I found myself in the car heading to a big nature preserve. We knew roughly how to get there, but still had to rely on street signs to figure out where to turn. At one intersection in particular, neither of us in the car could figure out which road we were approaching until it was too late to get into the correct lane.

Why the difficulty? Apparently, some genius decided to make the text much smaller so they could cram the words “Mall entrance” right under the street name. This was particularly amusing, since the mall entrance itself was so huge that it was basically impossible to miss. Putting the same info on the small road sign was not only unnecessary, but made the sign far less useful for people who were trying to discern the street name from further away — in our case, to determine that it wasn’t the place we needed to turn.

A straightforward rule of thumb can help prevent this type of mishap. If you’re designing a street sign that may also need to identify a landmark that the street leads to, take a look at any existing signage or other visual cues. If those cues already make it obvious that the landmark is right there, and assuming that you’re free to include or exclude a reference to the landmark, then it’s best to leave that text off the sign.

In other words, if you only have a single, fixed-size sign to work with, people are probably best-served by a simple approach that makes the street name as large as possible. By keeping distractions and clutter to a minimum and letting the landmark’s existing signage do its job, you’ll make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to find their destination, without forcing them to decipher overly-cramped street signs at the last minute.

One of our relatives was in town last weekend, so we decided to meet up with her for coffee. Most of the places that I’d normally grab a coffee close by 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday, so our late-afternoon meeting time meant that I had to pick a different venue than usual.

I remembered that a new Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood has a coffee shop on one side of their space, and they stay open until 10 pm or so. We decided to give it a try, and sure enough, the coffee was great and everyone had a nice time.

One thing struck me as odd, though. The coffee bar wasn’t separated from the main dining area at all, yet the staff acted a bit weird when we asked where we could sit. Apparently, the coffee shop section was designed mainly for take-out, with a tiny bar counter as an afterthought. Since the restaurant wasn’t that busy, they let us sit in the main dining room, but I kept feeling like they could do a lot more with the two seemingly separate sides of the venue.

For instance, why not offer a 10% discount on dinner to anyone who comes in for a coffee and may want to stick around for a full meal? Or, how about describing one of the featured menu items from the restaurant on the coffee shop receipt or via a separate handout?

Either way, if you’ve got customers coming in and only purchasing from one part of your establishment, it makes sense to use those interactions to cross-sell them on your other offerings. Even if only a few feet separates one part of your venue from another, a little encouragement can go a long way towards motivating customers to try new products and services that they would otherwise breeze by during their daily routines.

Each time I pass by the potato chips aisle in my local grocery store, I check to see if they’ve added any smaller bags of a particular product. It’s more of a cracker than a chip, but regardless, the store has only ever carried a rather large size. During my most recent trip, the bag sizes remained the same, but they were running a sale that made even the big size a no-brainer.

So, I set out to find the original flavor that I’m familiar with. This was easier said than done, since the top of the display featured some sort of ultra cheddar flavor, followed by some nonsense like mega salsa, and so on. It wasn’t until I crouched to the floor that I found the original, classic flavor on the lowest shelf.

Now, I understand that brands are always trying to spice things up with new and occasionally bizarre flavors. But displaying these so prominently that the tried-and-true original version is nearly lost may not be the best idea. Sure, you’d have to test it both ways. But I think there’s a lot to be said for always ensuring that the original flavor is close at hand, for frequent purchasers and occasional buyers alike.

I’ve noticed an odd contradiction in at least one local restaurant. The situation goes like this: the restaurant promotes itself as using organic, locally-grown, all natural, or otherwise healthy ingredients. And for the most part, there’s no reason to believe they aren’t abiding by this guideline when preparing your food. However, the condiments on the table tell a different story.

In one example, the restaurant provides butter and jelly in little single-serve containers with breakfast. The butter is generic, but the jelly is a well-known brand. The first ingredient in that jelly? High fructose corn syrup. Yep, it’s more sugar than fruit. And I doubt the corn came from a local farm, either.

Granted, this is a small detail in the context of the overall dining experience. However, it’s more likely to be noticed when you’re positioning the restaurant as the type of place that would never serve mass-produced stuff. Returning to my example, I’m guessing there’s a way to buy little containers of organic fruit spreads or jam with no sugar added. And if those aren’t available from typical restaurant supply houses, I bet the farms that provide the other fresh ingredients would be happy to add natural jelly to their offerings.

Will switching the condiment selection to health-oriented versions help you sell more food? Maybe, maybe not. But if you’re already investing the time and money to make customers associate your restaurant with organic and local ingredients, it makes sense to go the extra mile and be consistent about it.

During a recent trip to the grocery store, one of the items on my shopping list was frozen broccoli. As I scanned the freezer shelves, I saw a great deal on one brand, which was selling for less than a dollar per pound. However, I was a little bit confused, since the same brand appeared to offer three different kinds of frozen broccoli — chopped, cuts, and florets — but only two of those versions had prices marked on the shelf.

When I brought the broccoli to the checkout lane, I learned that the florets were more than twice the price of the other kinds, so I respectfully declined to purchase them. And since the packages of each version look very similar, I doubt I’m the first shopper to be puzzled by the widely divergent pricing.

What’s the takeaway here? If you sell several products that are similar to one another, but one of those variants is considerably more expensive, then don’t give the more costly version the same packaging as the cheaper ones. Perhaps the top-of-the-line product can be labeled as “Premium”, or have a different color package. Either way, it pays to give customers a visual cue so they can differentiate more expensive products from cheaper ones, since otherwise you run the risk of setting low price expectations that will be impossible to meet.

Newer than new


While watching TV the other day, I noticed that the latest episode of a new series was labeled as “Brand New”. Not “New”, not “New Episode”, but “Brand New”. This strikes me as a bit odd, since the notion of new with regards to a TV show is really an all-or-nothing thing. If the episode has never aired before, then it’s new. Otherwise, it’s not.

With that in mind, it doesn’t make any sense that a particular episode could be anything besides “New” or a repeat. This makes labels like “Brand New” and “All New” rather superfluous, since the show can’t be newer than new. However, if these hyperbolic labels help generate a larger audience than just plain “New”, I guess TV networks will continue using them — even if they don’t convey any additional information to the viewer.

While sorting through some mail the other day, I noticed what appeared to be a greeting card from a local business. My address on the envelope almost looked hand-written, but closer inspection showed that it was just a computer font designed to mimic handwriting. As I opened the envelope, I found a generic “Happy Thanksgiving” card inside, with zero attempt by the sender to personalize it.

What’s wrong with this picture? Aside from the question of when Thanksgiving became a greeting card holiday, the sender obviously printed up the envelopes through some sort of mail merge. That’s all fine and good, but they also selected a font for the envelope that was apparently designed to look hand-written. Thus, the address sets the expectation that there might be something personalized inside, but the contents are entirely generic.

As a result, the recipient gets the impression that the sender thinks they’re dumb enough to be fooled by a fancy font, even when the card inside lacks any personalization. Presuming that the purpose of sending this type of card is to stay front of mind and build loyalty, I’d say the end result is likely to fall quite a bit short.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re going to use mail merge or another mass mailing feature, don’t try to disguise an impersonal communication as a personalized one. Sure, people might be more likely to throw away an envelope that’s addressed in a regular computer font than a handwriting-style one. But at least those who open the envelope won’t feel like they were tricked into doing so by the promise of a personalized message.

For something as simple as an expiration date, there sure are a lot of varieties. Some products say “Sell by”, others say “Use by” or “Best before”, and still others just revert to “Expiration” or “Expires” or a suitable abbreviation for one of those.

As another wrinkle, I’ve seen a few items that provide storage guidelines to supplement the expiration date. These might take the form of “Keeps longer when refrigerated”, “Stays fresh longer in the freezer”, and so on. But this raises a question: if you refrigerate or freeze those items, are they good past the expiration date, and if so, for how long?

Obviously, the answer will depend on the specific type of product, how it responds to refrigeration, and other factors. But for those companies that are already printing the type of message I mentioned right on the package, it seems like quantifying the term “longer” shouldn’t be too difficult. In other words, they could just re-run the original tests that were used to determine the expiration date, but with the product refrigerated or frozen during that span of time. Then, the message could be changed to something like “Good for up to 3 months past the expiration date when kept in freezer”.

Granted, this approach means more work for the manufacturer and more words to cram onto the packaging. But it also gives consumers a better idea of the longevity and value the product offers, which may lead to a significant increase in sales.