User Experience Design

Transforming Defects to Dollars at Grocery Outlet

Product Background

Discount grocery stores are fascinating places - walking through the aisles you can attempt to figure out what about the products made them either unsellable to traditional consumers and/or why they might be desirable by the customer segments that shop at discount grocery stores. 

In California, my favorite place to do this is Grocery Outlet, which often has both ultra-premium health food/snacks that just didn’t cut it at Whole Foods and random CPG products that were limited edition runs that missed their original selling window. 

User Experience

There were two experiences that stuck out to me recently, the first being a great example of redefining value and the second a failure to understand your customer segments. 

The first is a Jelly Belly product ingeniously called “Belly Flops” that collects all of the irregular shaped Jelly Beans and packages them together for a very low price. The beans taste exactly the same as normal Jelly Beans and the only difference is how they are shaped. This is clever not only from a naming standpoint, but also from a waste minimization / revenue maximization standpoint. Every business wants to sell as much of its “finished” product as possible, and in any business that is manufacturing physical objects, there are guaranteed to be defects. While the ideal is to first minimize those defects, generating revenue from those defects is a very close second. Acknowledging a product is a “defect” also lowers the stakes for a consumer to try it and targets an entirely different consumer segment that doesn’t necessarily care about physical imperfections but purchases on price. In terms of pricing, the 2lb bag of defects at Grocery Outlet was $2.99 before tax, whereas on Jelly Belly’s website a 2lb bag of the same defects is $9.99 while an equivalent 2lb assortment of normal Jelly Beans is ~$19.99, or 2x the price of normal Jelly Beans at MSRP, and ~6.6x more expensive than Grocery Outlet (Prices as of April 2019)!

You can see the “defective” pink, red, and yellow beans that are 2 beans fused together.

The second is variant of General Mill’s Fruit Gushers snack which adds a spicy twist to what is normally a simple, sugary snack. I, of course, had to try a box and they were indeed fairly spicy for what is normally a children’s snack! While I have no specific evidence that the product is performing poorly in normal supermarkets other than it’s presence at Grocery Outlet, one could assume that the creators of this product failed to understand their customer segments properly. I would argue that most of the consumers of this product will be children that are (a) not expecting something spicy and (b) do not, in general, like spicy foods. While the product could be a surprise hit, based simply on the customer segments that make up its market, it is likely going to be a tough sell. However, in the secondary market at Grocery Outlet where there are people like me wanting to try new products just for fun, it is a product worth paying for albeit at a discounted price. This is an interesting example of the value shift that can occur based on the selling context and customer segment of your product. 

Spicy Fruit Gushers.jpg

Dumb and Dumber Door Decals

Product Background

In February, I was in San Francisco visiting colleagues and decided to drop by the Metreon for a quick snack. As usual, a conference was happening just across the street at Moscone, IBM’s Think 2019, and advertisements covered most open surfaces advertising the conference.  

UX Issue

Conferences occur all the time at Moscone and advertisements routinely plaster over any available space around the center, but these door banners covering the East entrance doors of the Metreon were just not transparent enough to see through the door from the outside. Why is this a problem? 

It is a problem when individuals are traveling bi-directionally through a single set of doors and one set of travelers can’t see what, or more likely whom, is on the other side!

In just the time that it took for me to snap a couple photos, around a dozen people attempted to enter a door from the outside only to find someone directly inside attempting to exit the building. 

Outside looking in at the Metreon in San Francisco, CA.

Inside looking out at the Metreon in San Francisco, CA.

Potential Remedy

This problem could have been solved very easily by simply testing the material on a piece of glass before placing across an entire six door span in a commercial setting. That these doors were left in this situation implies that the individuals responsible for posting the signs took one look and decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to redo them. 

Cognitive Overload at Equifax

Product Background

  • Equifax is one of the big 3 credit reporting bureaus in the United States and is infamous for its 2017 data breach which exposed the personal information of ~143 million Americans. (Link) (PDF)

  • Their handling of the crisis was even worse and the ultimate security solution for most users (credit freezes) was further undermined by Equifax’s inability to generate random pin numbers that are used to unfreeze a user’s credit file. (Link) (PDF)

  • More recently, Krebs On Security discovered that Equifax had opened yet another security hole in their new MyEquifax portal allowing a malicious attacker to bypass credit freeze pins previously set by users if they can get past the initial challenge questions. (Link) (PDF)

  • To remedy this as a user, one needs to register on the site to ensure a malicious actor can’t act and unfreeze your credit without your knowledge, resetting your pin in the process.

    • As an aside, if you haven’t yet frozen your credit at all major reporting bureaus, you should spend the next 20 minutes accomplishing that task.

UX Issue

The challenge is that you will need an engineering degree in order to formulate a proper password! There are no less than 9 different password requirements that the user must pass in order to input an acceptable password. 

It is challenging enough for most users to have unique passwords for every site, it is another level of cognitive overload to force the user to take out a piece of paper to write out a password that they think matches Equifax’s validation rules. 

It is also interesting to note that many of the rules are likely not commonly occurring patterns, such as containing 9 consecutive numbers or spaces, and are therefore adding additional cognitive burden to users that wouldn’t have made those choices anyway. 

Additionally, having more rules counterintuitively makes the passwords easier to crack, because now there are fewer possible password combinations that need to be tried!

Potential Remedy

The potential remedy in this case is to have a competent IT team across the board, but that is unlikely to occur at Equifax.  

More seriously, the key takeaway from this post is that if this sign up flow were on a consumer app or any application where the company wasn’t a monopoly that forced users to register, most customers would balk at the sign up process and fail to progress further. There is a significant cognitive load placed on the user with each additional requirement added and if those requirements aren’t adding significant value to the user or their experience, they shouldn’t be there in the first place. 

While this is a potential UX issue in and of itself, if that many rules are required by your backend password registration system, you may be better off hiding some of the requirements that are infrequently violated and showing those requirements only when violated by the user, reducing the cognitive load for most of the users on the platform.

Details Matter, Even the Subtle Ones [Good UX]

Product Background

While Apple has had their fair share of design missteps, Apple has remarkable product design consistency not only across products, but across platforms as well. 

User Experience

Most smartphone users are familiar with the “blue bubbles” that indicate whether a given message is an iMessage versus a light green which indicates a normal text message. This style is consistent across all iDevices (iPhone, Mac, iPad, etc.). More info at Apple, but image below.

This color scheme is also on display in Apple’s support conducted via web chat as seen in the image below, even down to my response “messages” being the exact same color grey as those in an actual iMessage conversation. 

This is a remarkable detail to get right, even at a company like Apple that prides itself on a consistent user experience. This design choice likely creates a higher degree of trust as well as the opportunity for the user to stay within Apple’s carefully curated user experience garden. 

Compare this to Intercom’s chat (which now looks eerily similar to iMessage) or to Zendesk’s chat platform, and imagine if Apple used Zendesk’s messaging platform for support. It would take the user out of the Apple “experience”, which even for just a moment, hurts the world Apple has created and attempts to maintain.