Getting groceries delivered is a huge time saver. Combined with a strategy of limiting those deliveries to the heaviest or least-overpriced items, it can be budget-friendly as well. However, there’s one issue that I’ve found hard to overcome: sometimes, the delivery service will bring you products with laughably short expiration dates.

For instance, I received a delivery last week that included a bunch of yogurt. Every one of the containers had an expiration date that was about 10 days out, which seemed awfully short to me. I happened to be in a local grocery store later that morning, and decided to check when their yogurt expired. Sure enough, every container I saw carried a date more than two weeks further out than the ones I received from the delivery company.

So, I called up customer service and explained the issue. They were incredulous and refused to issue even a partial credit. How did they justify this? The rep claimed that their policy is to follow the USDA guidelines for dairy products, which supposedly only require expiration dates to be 7 days out.

In other words, the delivery company told me that they only seek to do the bare minimum. If the government regulations allow them to sell products that no sensible consumer would buy in a retail store, then it’s good enough for their customer service guidelines. I guess that’s the company’s decision, but I think they’re being a little shortsighted. After all, groceries are a competitive market. I can easily get the same product across the street and never buy it from the delivery service again. Sure, it might not be as convenient as having the item delivered, but no amount of convenience can make up for receiving an inferior version of the product that the customer may have to throw away before they get to use it.

The last few times I’ve gone out to breakfast, I’ve watched an amusing scene unfold. You see, the restaurant in question was constructed without a revolving door. As temperatures have fallen, this means that a harsh gust of wind blows right through the standard door each time someone opens it. To remedy the situation, the restaurant decided to use a separate enclosed walkway as their so-called winter entrance, and direct customers to that door instead.

What’s so funny about this? I typically sit near the inoperable door, and it’s incredible to watch how many people walk up, stare at the door incredulously, and even try to open it. This occurs despite numerous cues showing that the entrance door has been moved, including printed signs, brightly-colored arrows, and even a fall decorative display blocking half of the door opening. Eventually, they give up and walk over to the second entrance.

As this experience illustrates, people are creatures of habit, and it’s hard to retrain them once they’ve gotten accustomed to something. To get customers to follow a request, you might need to take things to a near-comical level. Returning to my example, I’d love to see what would happen if the restaurant covered the entire inside door frame with giant text saying “This is not the entrance”, or even removed the outside handle from the door. While they might still get a few confused customers, I bet a larger percentage of people would figure out which door to use on the first try.

There’s a particular brand of cottage cheese that I really like. For years, I’ve paid around $4.50 for a large container, exempting the occasional sale. So when a grocery store near me cut the regular price to about $2.50, while other places continue charging $2 more, I began buying all my cottage cheese there.

This pricing disparity made me wonder: how could one store afford to charge more than 40% less than the others? Surely the margin isn’t anywhere near that big. Thus, my guess is that the store near me negotiated a vastly better deal with the supplier, perhaps agreeing to purchase an enormous amount of product every week in exchange for far lower per-unit prices than other buyers in the area are paying.

If this is the case, the retailer could even go one step further, and tell customers the reason why the price is now so much lower than before. I’ve actually seen similar messaging in flyers from another grocery chain, where they explain how they’ve managed to keep prices low or reduce them over time. Granted, not all shoppers will be interested in the story behind low prices. But those who pay attention to the changes in pricing over time will be eager to learn some of the rationale behind this type of price reduction, and will think highly of a retailer that’s always pushing to keep groceries affordable.

I don’t go through that many postage stamps, but when I run out, it’s usually easier to buy more at the pharmacy across the street than at a post office. However, I’ve always found the way stamps are merchandised — at least in the retail chain near me — to be rather bizarre.

Instead of having the stamps in a regular aisle or by the cash registers, some retailers apparently designate one or two employees per shift who are permitted to carry the stamps — in a pouch around their neck, if you can believe that. The person who typically carries them isn’t a store manager, and not even the pharmacists are allowed to join this elite club. Even stranger, if you ask the designated person for stamps, they won’t let you take the stamps with you while you shop. You have to pay for the stamps immediately while they watch.

Now, I understand that postage stamps are sort of like a form of currency, so the store wants to prevent theft. However, there are far more expensive items in plain sight. For instance, I’ve seen many personal care items on the shelves that are priced at $10-15 and higher, which exceeds the $9 value for a typical book of stamps.

Why does the retailer trust customers to pay for virtually everything else at checkout, yet insists on this paranoid approach for stamps? My guess is that it’s an old policy that was set many years ago, and they don’t sell enough stamps to bother changing it. Along those lines, though, the lack of any visible place where stamps are merchandised, coupled with the draconian purchasing method, makes customers feel like the store doesn’t trust them. And even if stamps are a zero-margin item, this surely isn’t a good way to foster a positive perception of the retailer’s brand.

As I walked past a nearby park last weekend, I noticed a strange phenomenon: the number of people working there exceeded the number of people who were at the park for recreational purposes. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed a lot of workers scattered throughout the park. In fact, it’s a direct consequence of the overly-manicured aesthetic that the people in charge are trying to cultivate.

What am I referring to? Basically, the park is filled with flower beds that tend to die off as soon as the weather is too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry. After each such cycle, a team of gardeners is dispatched to dig up the dead stuff and plant the replacement flowers. And that means you’re going to have a nearly-constant stream of people working there.

Aside from the obvious cost inefficiencies of this approach, it also means the park is less relaxing than it should be. After all, who wants to sit on a bench near what is basically a construction site? To remedy this, park operators should think low-maintenance. Instead of planting individual beds of flowers that are highly sensitive to the elements, just plant grass and trees that are designed to last year-round. By adopting this strategy, you’ll not only save money, but also increase the number of days when visitors can enjoy the park without feeling like it’s a messy work-in-progress.

I recently threw away a bunch of coupons from one of my favorite clothing stores. While I planned on redeeming at least one of them, the entire batch ended up expiring before I got a chance to. The reason: they were only valid on Wednesdays, and I almost never have time to go to a store in the middle of the week.

I’m guessing the retailer was thinking that revenues tend to be lower on weekdays, so it makes sense to provide incentives for people to shop on Monday through Friday. While this probably makes sense for a restaurant or other service business where people can enjoy the product over and over, I don’t think it fits with a more typical retail model. After all, you can only buy the same shirt or pants or jacket so many times in a given week, or even month or year.

Ideally, retailers who are trying to drive in-store traffic would not limit promotions to specific days of the week. But for those who insist on it, there’s a simple way to reduce the number of coupons that go unused. Just offer a catch-up period during the following weekend when the promotion will still be honored. That way, customers who tried to make it in will have a way to get the items they wanted, and you’ll still enjoy the sales lift that the campaign was designed to generate in the first place.

A few months ago, I began noticing a bright light coming from one of the buildings to the west of my apartment. After further observation, I realized that it was some sort of light show, not unlike what you’d find inside a dance club, that goes along with the rooftop bar in a nearby hotel. Luckily, I’m not close enough to the source for it to be all that annoying, but I can’t speak for the thousands of people who live only a block or so away.

What’s the light show like? Picture a bright light source that alternates between pink, green, blue and other hues. Along with the changing colors, it also blinks and pulsates. Oh, and this is all happening at night, when the rest of the city is increasingly dark due to energy conservation efforts in the commercial buildings, so the light stands out even more.

My guess is that anyone living within two blocks of the rooftop bar, and who has a clear line of sight to that rooftop, will be seriously pissed off by the jarring lights outside their windows. And that underscores the bigger problem here. Aside from being a bad neighbor and contributing to visual pollution, the bar operators are going to annoy many of the people who live close by. At least some of those people are potential customers for the bar itself. But I highly doubt they’re going to frequent the establishment if that same place is responsible for turning their living room into the visual equivalent of a cheap motel room located next to a neon “Vacancy” sign.

Avoiding this type of situation is quite easy. When designing a light show, audio system, or any other element that has the potential to annoy neighboring buildings, make sure to budget for suitable insulation. That might mean polarizing filters on the sides and roof of a bar area to keep the light from traveling too far, or soundproofing materials to limit music levels. And if you’ve already built a venue without taking these steps, at least have the courtesy to turn down the lights and volume to a reasonable level. Otherwise, you may end up scaring away a big chunk of the local population, meaning that you’ll miss out on the word of mouth and revenue that they could bring to your business.

When I walked into the pharmacy the other day, I did what I always do and stopped at the kiosk to scan my loyalty card. Aside from a mediocre coupon for a brand I rarely buy, the kiosk also printed a rather puzzling voucher. Basically, the voucher said that if I presented it at the register, I would receive double points for any spending during the next month or so.

This sounded like a no-brainer to me, so I gave the coupon to the pharmacist at checkout. He tried several times to scan it or enter the number by hand. The printout was rather fuzzy, so he eventually gave up and recommended that I try again during my next visit.

As I thought about this experience, I wondered: if the store is already going to the trouble of printing a personalized voucher offering the double points benefit, why do I need to take a separate action to redeem that benefit? Why not just provide the double points automatically, and change the printout to say that the benefit has been applied to my loyalty account? By getting rid of the extra steps that add little or no value, the retailer could provide a smoother experience for shoppers, while freeing staff from the hassle of scanning a voucher that really shouldn’t be part of the process in the first place.

Between the city digging up half the street for no apparent reason, and a number of unrelated private construction projects ranging from refurbishing a patio to putting up new buildings, my block has been under construction for several years straight. Living nearby, I’ve gotten used to it. But as I spent a few hours last weekend in the hotel next door, it was pretty clear that the construction situation would be a real drag for the folks staying there.

For example, the hotel lobby is basically glass on all sides. One of those sides has a lovely view of a torn-up outdoor area, with various construction vehicles and debris strewn out all over the place. During the daytime, the ugly view is complemented by the loud drilling and clanging of the construction process. And to add insult to injury, this has been going on during the summer, when room prices are usually the highest.

I don’t know what sort of effort the hotel made to warn guests about the construction situation, but I doubt it was anything more than some fine print on their website — if they even bothered with that. That’s a shame, since if I were paying summertime prices for a hotel room, I would expect it to have at least decent views and be reasonably quiet. Instead, everyone staying on that side of the hotel or visiting the lobby was greeted with a visual and auditory assault from a messy construction site.

What’s the solution here? At a minimum, the hotel should make an effort to block off the construction area with a temporary wall, tent or other material. I saw another nearby hotel take that approach, and it seemed to help a bit. Next, they should identify the rooms most likely to be impacted by the sights and noise, and only offer those for booking once everything else is taken. Finally, they should make a better effort to inform the guests who would be assigned those rooms that there is major construction taking place nearby, discount those rooms accordingly, and get an affirmative consent from those guests so they know what they’re in for.

While staying near a construction site will always be annoying, people will be much less upset about it if they feel that they were given sufficient warning ahead of time. By setting realistic expectations, hotels can mitigate any loss in brand equity and repeat business that might otherwise arise in these situations, and keep customers as happy as reasonably possible during those periods when construction projects are in full swing.

Whenever I’m planning to visit a store that has a printable coupon on their website, I do the logical thing and try to print it out. However, this is often easier said than done. For instance, I’ve hit the following roadblocks when working with so-called printable coupons:

– The coupon is part of a flyer, which is part of a Flash file that doesn’t load properly, and thus can’t be printed.

– The coupon is written out in plain text, but it’s constrained to some weird box that prevents half the text from printing, regardless of page scaling.

I don’t know why companies make this so complicated. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, just provide the coupon as a graphic or a PDF file. These formats offer a tried-and-true way to present text and graphics for viewing, downloading and printing. By adopting this approach, a larger percentage of customers will actually be able to print and redeem the coupon, which should make any printable coupon campaign more successful.