Posts tagged “choice”


This weekend we checked out Palo Alto’s new restaurant, The Counter; a place that is having some buzz in the blogosphere (and their original Santa Monica place supposedly being mentioned on Oprah). The thrust seems to be highly customizable burgers. Kinda like The Fractured Prune’s version of donuts I blogged about recently.

I was surprised at how sedate and genteel the whole thing was, aesthetically. I was expecting much more of a cartoony-branded affair. This was nice.

Even the cash featured art more than heavily branded graphics. This worked against them a little bit – it was hard to figure out what to do, there was no hostess stand. Upon coming in, if no one is there to greet you, you see a stack of cilpboards with menus. Are these for us? I actually told the guy who came up “we have no idea what we are doing” – a comment I wouldn’t normally make (I’m not that insecure, but really, we couldn’t figure out the script. A bit more wayfinding signage, branded or not, would have helped.

Here’s the menu:
There’s a lot of choices there! It’s surprising, exciting, and overwhelming. They could use a little help in form design here, again, asking you to wayfind through a series of decisions (although burger OR bowl needs some visual work to make the decision-fork a little clearer). But really, the impact of that massive set of choices (some with price premiums, some not) is pretty incredible.

They have mitigated that slightly with a set of pre-defined burgers, where they’ve chosen a few combinations, given them names (The Counter Burger) and saved you the trouble of figuring it out. But what I want is to make my own custom burger – the key experience here, it seems – but with some guidance: what goes with what? what tastes complement other tastes?

If you want to redo a room, you can consult a color wheel for info on complementary colors, you can find advice that might tell you to pick the carpet first and then select paint and fabric next [whatever the advice might be], that hot colors look good in a small room, and cool colors in a big room will make it feel more empty [again, or whatever – I’m making this up].

It’d be pretty amazing to have some help with this, if you want it. If you know what you want to eat, go for it, but if you need some help pairing up sauces and buns and so on, what can we do? Perhaps The Counter wants you to experiment and come back over and over again (we felt that urge, certainly), but what fun it would be to have some guidance!

We figured it out, eventually, with a mix of traditional (tomatoes) and curious (hard boiled eggs, english muffin) choices.

Appetizers: dill pickle chips, yet again proving that anything is good when breaded and fried. And a half-and-half appetizer of regular fries (poor) and sweet potato fries (good, but not the best I’d ever had).

Burgers were unique, tasty, fun. Overall a good experience. We’re eager to go back and try something different next time. But $70 for four burgers, appetizers, a couple of beers and glasses of wine? Ouch.

They had just the right amount of new-restaurant inquiries from servers and managers asking us if everything was okay; good problem solving when something was missing (they ran in and got us a plate of the stuff we wanted).

Signs to Override Human Nature?

We see these in small retail all the time – handwritten signs exhorting the customer to follow some non-natural path of behavior in order to simplify the merchant-centered purchase process. Here’s a fun one, where the experience is pretty cool anyway, and the creativity and ineffectiveness of the signs is something to smile about, rather than grimace.
The setting certainly helps. In the town of Waimea, on Kauai, on your way to getting a sweet and cold treat – shave ice.

The cash register sits underneath the most awesomely diverse and interesting list of flavors. You approach the guy at the cash and of course you want to say how many you want, and what sizes, and (after having gaped open-mouthed at the display for a few minutes) the flavors.

The signs attempt to warn you off from doing that, but it’s human nature. And with each person that tries to ask for a flavor, the cash guy tells them ‘I don’t care about flavors. I just need to know what size you want.”

They are so dogged with their insistence, but they’ve designed an experience where it’s entirely natural to ask for the flavors right then. Nope.

He’ll go and get the plain shave ice (with ice cream, if you want it) and then at another counter they take your flavor order. It may end up being the same guy working the other counter, or someone else. But they don’t care about flavors, until you get to the flavor counter.

It’s not so terrible that they go through the same thing over and over again, it’s just a great example of design and human nature and the ever-present sign which purports to fix the whole thing by simply warning people what not to do!

This sign is posted behind the cashier.
1. How many Shaved would you like (ice)?
2. What are the sizes you would like?
3. Would you like ice cream on the bottom?
4. Would you like our tasty creams on the top of your ice We have Vannilla Cream And also Haupia cream (which is coconut)
5. We do also sale extras so this would be the time to ask for them
Mahalo (thank you)

The cutaway detail of the Halo Halo Shave Ice is pretty neat. Nice combination of 2D and 3D presentation of the details:
Haupia cream topping
Shave Ice
Haupia cream topping
Halo Halo
Ice cream opsional [sic] with Halo Halo

Living in a hidden-fee economy

The SF Chron writes about those little extras costs on various services that add up pretty dramatically, with some economics research on how we perceive and make decisions around fees.

“In the end, you don’t fool the customers with the hidden price,” he says. “They know they’ve paid it even if they didn’t know they were going to pay it.” And if they feel ripped off, they won’t come back. In the cell phone industry, he says, carriers lose 40 percent of their customers each year, a tremendous “churn” rate that industry players are starting to take note of. Sprint, Nalebuff points out, recently began pushing what it calls its “Fair and Flexible” plan, which adjusts customers’ calling plans to minimize overage charges. Sprint is betting, in other words, that customer loyalty is worth more, in the long run, than sneaky fees.

They consider the cost of ink in owning a printer, and hotel costs. The quote takes a customer-centric view of what will most effective, but consider the switching costs (in terms of time, aggravation, and sometimes money) for banks, credit card companies, telephone service providers, and internet service providers. Not to mention that some hidden-fee situations such as utilities or cable TV may be monopoly situations. Frankly, we get shafted by these firms because they can. Because it’s too hard to make the switch or there is no one to switch to. It’s not loyalty on our part, or tolerance for this sort of crap, indeed there may not be any place to go. Do you see CitiBank or Wells Fargo or Bank of America as having dramatically different fee policies (we could investigate and see, for our specific needs, what the advantage is, of course, but my point is that these companies are all playing these games, and if you start factoring in the research required, it’s just silly)? Of course not.

We live in a society of choice, but not ubiquitous simple cross-category choice. If Coke on the shelf is going to charge a hidden fee, and Pepsi on the same shelf isn’t, then after the first time, we might consider Pepsi differently (for those who aren’t powerfully loyal to a beverage). If one gas station has a hidden, and the one across the street doesn’t, sure. On a purchase-by-purchase basis, there can be lots of choice.

But for an ongoing relationship, who the hell can deal with making changes. Would you change your car insurance? Your house insurance? Your health insurance? Your calling plan? Your broadband provider? Not if you could help it, not unless driven to it.

I wish it was easier, and I appreciate the pro-consumer attitude the Chron quotes, but I just don’t think it’s realistic.

Fossil’s designy SKU onslaught

Probably everyone knew this but me, but Fossil Watches offers an impressive (at least in terms of number, if not actual appeal) array of themed watches. Themes (or shall we call them brands) include Ohio State, Universities of Illinois, Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, as well as Starck, Gehry, Atari, and some other geeky options. Fossil is riding the same trends as everyone else – co-branding with entertainment properties, designers as brands, target = “_blank”Substance-of-Style-esque massive choice.


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