I then proceeded to look for a bulb for this lamp. I thought maybe I would find it in the same section where the lamps are sold. But I was mistaken. The bulbs were half a dozen aisles away in a random “Home Essentials” section. While shopping online, if you happen to search for “Lamps & Lighting” on Target.com, they also present a neat little reminder at the bottom called “Related Categories > Light Bulbs” but are unable to offer customers the same ease of search in the physical store?
So I started off by giving the lighting section in Target a quick scan. The box containing my lamp has specific instructions about getting a “3-way CFL standard bulb”. All of the first 3 words were completely alien to me. 3-way? CFL? As they say, Findability, is the most critical success factor for information architecture. If users are not able to find required information without browsing, searching or asking, then the findability of the architecture fails. Navigation needs to be clearly conveyed to ease finding of the contents. So I started my search to find the ideal bulb for my floor lamp. What does CFL mean? What’s a 3-way anyway? What are Lumens? Add to that, bulbs displayed were of different types – compact fluorescent, fluorescent, halogen, incandescent, LED in different colors and brightness.
I just wanted a simple, white (not yellow) powerful bulb. But GE had also developed this absurd “find your bulb” consumer guide with various color codings on each pack. Orange code on pack is for “cozy relaxing light”; blue code is for “comfy inviting light”, green code for “fresh energizing light”, yellow code for “strong vibrant light”.The terminologies are so subjective – I started to wonder what would my “bright, white light” be in GE parlance?
Almost 20 minutes into the search, I was getting frustrated when I called for help. The Target sales associate was equally baffled and scurried for cover as I bombarded her with my questions. She picked something from the shelf and said indifferently “this is the one you are looking for. See, it says here on this pack “white light”.” It seemed as though she assumed I couldn’t read English and tried to translate the words on the pack. I asked her about the return policy and said “sure if you are not happy, bring it back and look for something else”. When I checked again at the checkout counter, the associate said point blank "I don't know. I only checkout stuff." I was so furious that buying something I consider to be as basic as a bulb will cost me so much wasted time and two or more trips to Target.
When I turned on my new lamp at home eagerly looking for a bright white light, I was thoroughly disappointed – it was a dull, golden yellow hue. When I inspected the pack, it said “Soft White Light” – how does “soft white” become “golden yellow” in use? Indeed, the number of options and choices was rather formidable. That’s why in the course of writing this blog, I stumbled upon elaborate “find the right bulb” guides in the form of videos, tutorials on both Lowe’s and Home Depot’s websites.
5 Recommendations For GE Lighting, Target and other bulb manufacturers and retailers:
- Keep the wording on the pack simple and avoid jargon.
- The color coding on GE’s packs were helpful until you start trying to decode the unclear category titles like “fresh energizing, strong vibrant”
- Standardize and simplify the nomenclature – Could we learn something from the food industry and the standardized nutritional information labels? Won’t a similar standard label aid shoppers as they buy seemingly-simple but mightily-complex products such as bulbs?
- Interactive touch screen aids/guides in the aisle that can help customers sort through the plethora of options and identify the most suitable choice for their need.
- A tip from Indian modern-format retailing – hire local college kids as promoters who are employees of the brand owner, not the retailer. These so-called “human guides”, are not generalists like a typical retail sales associate, they are specialists in one product category like “lighting” and can talk users through the various options and choose the one that best fits their needs.
It probably takes only one user experience designer to change a light bulb but many many more to shop for one. In conclusion, when we have trouble buying or operating something a little more complex like a lamp or a projector, we have something to blame: the machine’s bewildering appearance or the lack of clues to suggest what can be done and how to do it. Even more frustrating, however, is that we often have trouble working things that we expect to be so simple, we have jokes like “how many engineers it takes to change a light bulb” about them.