During the warmer months, I occasionally stop by the big grocery store in my neighborhood to pick up a few things that are overpriced (or out of stock) at my usual online grocer. This is typically an uneventful experience, but the checkout process has seemed rather cumbersome lately.

What changed? The store has instructed the cashiers to give every customer a spiel about some sort of board game-style promotion they’re running. In the half-dozen or so interactions I’ve observed, the customer has no idea what the promotion is and has little interest in learning more about how it works. They just want to complete their purchase and get on with their day.

Heck, I’ve seen numerous flyers about the same board game promo, and I still couldn’t give you a concise explanation of how it works. I think you have to collect game pieces with each purchase and paste them onto a board. Regardless, it’s just too complicated to bother with.

This underscores the problem with complicated promo campaigns. If a typical customer can’t fully grasp how the promo works in a few seconds, they probably won’t be motivated to participate. And if few customers participate, the campaign is only reaching a small audience, which means a smaller sales lift overall. So the next time you’re designing a promo campaign, try to keep it as simple as possible. Otherwise, you may be dooming it to failure by injecting too much complexity from the start.

Due to the happy confluence of an exciting new exhibit and a discount on admission, I recently visited a nearby art museum for the first time in years. So much time had passed, in fact, that they constructed an entire new wing, which made an already large campus even more challenging to navigate.

The designers surely anticipated that visitors would be looking for wayfinding maps, and a large set of maps was conveniently mounted on the wall. However, with at least three floors and multiple buildings to cover, the maps were split into several panels. With so much physical space to visually traverse, it took me almost a minute to locate the “You are here” icon — an essential part of any wayfinding experience.

How can a venue cut down the time it takes viewers to locate their current position? For starters, make the “You are here” indicator as large and bold as possible. Then, do something to highlight the map panel where the “You are here” indicator appears. This might mean enlarging the entire panel compared to the other ones, outlining the panel in a highly-visible color, or using any number of other visual mechanisms to draw attention there. In doing so, you’ll enable visitors to quickly pinpoint their current location, thus helping them get where they want to go and making their experience as stress-free as possible.

Most of the conference calls that I’m involved with go pretty smoothly. People dial in, the system says something like “The leader has not yet arrived”, and you hear music until the organizer shows up. Give or take five minutes, the call starts on time and without any major hassles.

Occasionally, though, there’s a hiccup. For instance, I dialed into a call last week that never got off the ground. There was a scheduling mixup, so the organizer never joined the call and the rest of us just heard music. After ten minutes or so, I gave up and sent the organizer an email to reschedule.

These mixups happen from time to time, and generally aren’t a big deal. But the folks who design conference calling services could learn something from this experience. In particular, why make all the other participants wait on hold if the organizer hasn’t shown up?

The better approach is to trigger a different message after a few minutes of wait time. In that message, the automated system could give people the option to receive a call back, text message, or email when the leader dials in. That way, nobody would have to waste their time waiting on hold for an extended period, and the conference calling service would make things a little bit easier for participants and organizers alike.

As I picked up the mail the other day, I was greeted by a small pile of catalogs. Each one was addressed to me “or current resident”, indicating that the mailings were at least partially based on zipcode. And with summer just around the corner, each catalog prominently featured the store’s outdoor furniture line.

However, this geographic targeting makes little sense to me. My zipcode is probably 99% apartments and condos. Only a subset of those have a balcony, and most of the balconies are too small for anything more than a tiny table and a couple of chairs. Plus, the harsh winters mean that even if you do buy outdoor furniture to cram into your tiny balcony, you’ll have to drag it inside for at least one of the seasons.

Taken together, these factors mean that my area is likely a poor target for outdoor furniture. In fact, I would guess that the higher the population density of a particular zipcode, the less likely the residents are to be interested in those products. Sure, there will be exceptions, and if someone has bought outdoor furniture from you before, they’re probably worth including on your mailing list. But for the rest of us living in high-density zipcodes, it makes more sense to skip the mass mailings for products that we’ll probably never buy.

A few days ago, I got a flyer in the mail from a nearby restaurant. The flyer itself was fairly well-designed, with coupons on the front and a partial menu on the back. At the top of the flyer, there was a call to action encouraging people to visit the restaurant’s website to view the full menu. However, this was easier said than done.

As it turns out, the web address for the restaurant wasn’t printed anywhere on the flyer. So I tried a series of web searches, even including the exact name of the restaurant and the building where it’s located, but nothing came up. For all practical purposes, there was no way for a typical customer to follow the call to action on the flyer, leading to a rather disappointing first impression of the business.

It’s really quite easy to solve this problem. In short, if you include text in your offline marketing communications to encourage people to visit your website, then don’t be shy about your web address. Put it right in the call to action, as well as near your phone number and other contact information. That way, you’ll give customers an easy way to learn more about your business, without sending them on a wild goose chase that’s all but guaranteed to stifle their enthusiasm before the first visit.

I needed to print out a few photos, so I headed to the local pharmacy to use one of their photo kiosks. The user interface wasn’t very intuitive, and the touchscreen was in pretty dire need of a recalibration. But those weren’t the most frustrating parts of the experience.

When I got to the point that I was ready to finish my order and print the photos, the kiosk asked for a print code. The message on the screen said that I should locate a store employee to enter the code for me. I tracked someone down, he entered the code, and the prints came out fine. A few minutes later, when I wanted to print photos from a different source, I had to flag down the same employee to re-enter the code.

Now, I can understand why the store might want an employee to authorize large print jobs. But insisting on a code for a mere handful of photos, totaling less than a dollar at a time? That’s just silly, and is clearly a source of frustration for the customer and wasted productivity for the retail staff.

When you think about it, requiring that an employee get involved in every self-service transaction defeats the point of offering self-service in the first place. The whole idea of self-service is to empower customers to complete a task without the time or expense of involving an employee. Sure, you can put safeguards in place, like requiring a code for large or otherwise unusual print jobs, such as in my example. But for the other 95% of transactions, it makes sense to give the customer enough freedom to finish what they intended to do, rather than forcing your employees to babysit every transaction.

A few days ago, I noticed that one of my recurring bills was a little bit higher than usual. So, I went to the provider’s website and tried to sign in. I was virtually certain that I typed in the right information, but it kept giving me a weird and unhelpful error. Figuring that it couldn’t hurt, I clicked on the link to reset my password, and quickly learned what the problem was. I hadn’t signed in to the account for a few months, so they deactivated my online access without telling me.

Getting the online access reinstated was pretty easy, but I shouldn’t have had to go through that process at all. Rather, if the provider has some sort of rule in place that automatically deactivates accounts that haven’t been accessed in a couple of months, then the smart thing to do is help customers avoid the deactivation in the first place.

How would this work? Easy: just send customers an email a week or two before the deactivation is scheduled to occur. In that email, explain what they need to do — e.g. signing in to the account prior to the deactivation date — to keep their online access in place.

I’ve actually seen at least one company do this very smoothly, and it made perfect sense from both the provider’s and customer’s point of view. By giving people a heads up before turning off their online access, you can virtually ensure that anyone who wants to keep the account active will take action to do so, while still enabling you to clean up the truly unwanted accounts that prompted the creation of the automatic deactivation rules in the first place.

Virtually every breakfast place in my area closes shortly after lunch time, so I was quite excited to see an all day diner finally open its doors. Overall, the food was good and the prices were about what you’d expect for a big city, with one exception: the coffee was an outrageous $3 per cup.

Now, I’m not talking about any fancy coffee or espresso drinks. I’m talking about a regular cup of drip coffee. A few years ago, I would have expected to pay maybe $1.50 for that. Then it creeped up to around $2. I think one of the other places nearby charges $2.50. But $3 for a mug? Factoring in tax and tip, that’s almost as much as I normally pay for a whole pound of high-quality grounds.

How high can this go? Will customers feel cheated when they see $3 per cup on the bill? What about if the next place tries their luck at $4 or $5? I guess it comes down to what the market will bear. People expect to pay a premium for things like beer, wine and mixed drinks when they eat out. But pricing entrees at a seemingly reasonable level and then using coffee as a sneaky profit center just feels wrong, and I suspect it’s going to hurt repeat business in the long run.

Over the past few days, I’ve noticed a rather odd promotional campaign. First, an online grocer was offering a 25% discount on certain wines if you purchased at least six bottles. Then, I saw the exact same discount being offered in the wine section of my local pharmacy. Six bottles seemed like a strange minimum quantity, which made me think about the mechanics of this campaign.

Looking at the basic math, a 25% discount on six bottles is the same as buying 4.5 bottles and getting 1.5 for free. Of course, you can’t purchase part of a bottle, so a better comparison would be a promotion for buy three, get one free. However, that approach would mean the minimum order size is only four bottles, rather than six.

Why did the retailer or manufacturer adopt this strategy? My guess is that most people buy between one and five bottles of wine at once, and the goal here was to get them in the habit of buying larger quantities instead. As for whether the 25% off approach is more effective than something like buy six, get two free, you’d probably have to test it both ways to find out for sure. And given how much six bottles of wine weighs, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about including a free wine tote to sweeten the deal.

During a recent visit to the store, I noticed that the price of the multi-vitamins that I’ve been buying for years went up 20%. I haven’t read about any global vitamin shortages, so I’m guessing that the supplier or the retailer just decided it was time to up the margins on the product.

However, this approach may backfire, since logic dictates that shoppers will be more price sensitive towards products they purchase on a recurring basis. Simply put, people are more familiar with the price and how much it’s changed because they buy the product regularly, and these repeat purchases likely represent a larger share of wallet than similar items that are only purchased a few times a year.

While some percentage of unit sales will typically be lost with any price increase, a little bit of consumer-facing communication can help mitigate this effect. For instance, if the supplier increased their pricing, you might put up a little sign near the item explaining that the change was outside the store’s control. Or, if the change is only temporary, perhaps because of a regional product shortage, then tell customers that. Either way, it pays to make an effort to help shoppers understand the reasons for the price increase, so they’ll be less likely to take their recurring purchases elsewhere.