The tale of the two egg cartons – Product design trade offs

We buy basic groceries at two local supermarkets near our place – CVS and Jewel Osco. You’d think supermarkets would have nailed the basic grocery experience. But, it turns out that the egg buying experience is very different in these places.  Let’s begin by taking a look at the egg cartons.

Egg cartons - CVS and Jewel Osco

CVS goes for a cheap looking soft plastic carton while Jewel Osco packages its eggs in a tougher cardboard carton. My guess is that someone in CVS’ packaging teams decided to save a few hundred thousand dollars in egg packaging by going cheap. Was that the real cost, though? Let’s look at the egg shopping experience at CVS –

1. Find where the eggs are and pick a box.
2. Carefully open the box and check every egg to see if one is broken.
3. Every 1 out of 3 times, find a broken egg and repeat process with another new box.
4. Take the egg to the cash register. Invariably, the lady at the register will take another look at the eggs as it is a known problem.
5. Check out and walk out.
6. If, somehow, you forgot to check if your eggs are broken, well, be prepared to find yourself working hard to clean a smelly refrigerator.

The experience at Jewel Osco is simply ‘pick up a carton and leave’. Scarred by my experiences with CVS, I often open up the carton to make sure nothing is broken. But, that’s a waste of time. The cartons just work.

The only reason I shop at CVS right now is because it is a 1 minute walk from home vs. 15 minutes at Jewel Osco. Should there come a day when a Jewel Osco store is closer by, I’ll definitely be shopping there. In some ways, that’s the real cost of the trade-off decision CVS made.

It is worth thinking about the corners we cut in our lives too. We are always quick to see the gains and identify some costs on the surface. For example, I’m sure the CVS team thought of the inconvenience caused to customers. However, I’m not sure they really understand how they’re making what should be an easy, frictionless experience into an annoying one. Simple choices can have big consequences for your users.

Beware cutting corners on your products. When you do, make sure you really understand the trade-offs.

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