Curmudgeonly Speaking

On Writing Instructions

Steve Graham

Once upon a time,  a wise soul said that if you want somebody to learn how to pour sand out of a boot, write the instructions on the bottom of the heel.

Large corporations pay mountains of money each year to consultants. (Sometimes, the corporations even want the advice gleaned therefrom. ) Yet, sometimes these corporate behemoths ignore the obvious in their own back yards – or at least their parking lots.

The case in point here is Costco – that wonderful Kirkland, Wash.-based membership shopping chain where one can obtain hundreds of items, sometimes only in large quantities, but always at great prices.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Costco and drop thousands of dollars there every year. We’ve bought our cars (and tires) through Costco and our guests not only are entertained with the food and fine wine therefrom, but also wipe their hands and other parts with Costco’s paper products. Whenever we need something, the first question is “Does Costco sell it?

As dedicated customers know, the Costco physical plant is pretty much a cookie-cutter product and one is on familiar ground whether that Costco is in Amagasaki, Japan; Winnipeg, Manitoba or (as shown in the included photo) Hillsboro, Ore.

Costco, like most supermarkets and variety stores provides shopping carts (“trolleys” to our British cousins) for its patrons. And also like those other business concerns, Costco regularly sends an employee out to collect the carts, even during periods of the proverbial snow, rain and sleet, not to mention dark of night.

Last week, I approached a check-out stand with an armload of goodies t I had collected (far in excess of my original plan to purchase a single item) The nice cashier (Costco employees are uniformly friendly) offered me a cart with the admonishment to “please put it in the in the cart collection area when you are finished with it.”

That got me to thinking. European stores don’t have that problem because one has to deposit a €1 coin into a slot on the cart in order to get it in the first place and then it comes back when the cart is returned. Even if it’s worth €1 to somebody not to have to take the cart back, there’s no shortage of entrepreneurial folks who will take advantage of the opportunity. Until the U.S. stops printing  paper dollar bills, we probably won’t even start to see a similar system, but I digress.

Back to the subject of instructions.

1.       If Costco wants to save money and trouble, why not put up signs that say “In order to hold our costs and prices down, please take a cart with you into the store.”

2.       Why not add that message on the little flapper in front of the cart where the sign says “Don’t leave children unattended?”

3.       The sign on the cages is easily readable by people who already are returning their carts to the requested area.  It seems to me that the signs would be more effective where people leave carts outside the cages.

Other observations:

·         The cart “refuges” are few in number and can be a long walk. The more cart refuges, the greater the chance that somebody will use them.

·         There are no cart refuges near the designated parking areas for handicapped shoppers.

But again, I digress. When all else fails, write the instructions on the bottom of the heel.