Safeway and Sports Bras — Lessons in Usability

Warning! I realize for many people in this country, things are falling apart. To avoid getting depressed about the dystopian world evolving around us. (Pence? Really?) I wax poetic about mundane, first-world problems.

In tech, we’re obsessed with human behavior, by necessity. The startup mandate is to create easy to use products that make life easier for customers. If we miss a step, customers won’t transfer money from their bank account to ours — the holy grail of e-commerce. Once purchased, if our products aren’t usable, customers won’t come back and we can’t build a scalable, profitable business.

Yet, some of the most successful brands in the world make my life harder. Two examples on my mind lately are:

  1. Safeway’s Monopoly “game.”
  2. Sports bras from the Gap.

As a marketer whose built several e-commerce sites of my own and launched dozens of others, I understand why founders are preoccupied with usability. Unlike necessities like food, clothes and toilet paper — or anything available on Amazon — online distribution doesn’t guarantee a transaction. So, we do our homework…AP level stuff.

We notice a need or problem and learn everything about the customer — their interests, habits, thinking, what they’ll buy and what they’ll pay. We then create products and services that leave them surprised, delighted and wanting more.

Not so much in the analog world.

I live in a neighborhood where if you’re like me, eat food, value convenience over quality and are easily seduced by kitchen appliances, Safeway and Lucky are the only games in town. These conglomerates track my spending with a “loyalty” card and compete in a Hunger-Games-like fight to keep me faithful.

But Safeway doesn’t get me. To keep me coming back, several times a year they offer a Monopoly game in which customers earn “pieces” based on spending. To win prizes, customers must rip open the little pieces, tear off the perforated edges and match each piece to a square on the board. And, we’ve got to keep track of it all ourselves — the pieces, the prizes, the coupons and potential windfalls. This game was surely conceived by someone designing torture systems for Syrian prisoners. My kids won’t even “play” the game…bribed or not. Come on Safeway, what about Ginsu knives?

My other beef is with GapFit, Gap’s fitness line. The problem is with all sports top manufacturers, but I figured I’d pick on my last unsatisfactory purchase.

As a woman, I understand why sports tops include padding over the breasts. But why are they removable? Between my teenage daughter and me, we’ve amassed more misplaced “pads” than wayward socks sucked into the black hole, or wherever they end up. After I purchase and wash a $40 sports bra, inevitably the pads fall out in the dryer. Eventually, we find them and they go in a pile with the single socks. Now, to look cute at spin class, I’ve got to match each pad with the shape of the top, figure out how to squeeze it in through that little hole, and straighten it to lay flat on the top. And unlike shedding of the uterine membrane, this “curse” is not required to propagate the human species.

My hope is that Safeway starts offering Ginsu knives based on purchases they track for me electronically and all bra pads are sewn into the lining. Then, I suppose then I’ll have to focus on politics.

Originally published at Marissa V. Harrison.

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