Jakob Nielsen’s September 15th Alertbox talks about store locators on web sites, where he says “it must be not only possible to accomplish the task, but also easy and pleasant to do so.”

Good advice. I’ve run into sites before where it’s easy to find the locator and it pulls up all the necessary information (street address, phone number, hours, maybe even a map) using something simple like city name or postal code. Possible, easy, pleasant. Other sites make you hunt to even find the locator itself, don’t list stores in cities where you know they have them, return error messages when you try to find a Canadian store representing a U.S. chain, and in other ways present frustration at every turn. Impossible, difficult, unpleasant.

The philosophy of possible, easy, pleasant that should also extend to life offline. For example, I was in a local store last weekend, buying supplies to repaint Son #1’s room. The chain had issued a scratch card, where you could win different things, the most common of which was a coupon for a free frozen cake. Who doesn’t like cake? Who doesn’t like “free”? Good idea so far.

Instead of giving each cashier a stack of the coupons to give customers as needed, every single customer with a cake-winning card was told to go over to the “Customer Care” counter. When I first entered the store, there was a long lineup at the counter of people returning things. A big discussion was underway with a customer and three store employees, two of whom seemed to just be watching. Only one other person was actually caring for customers.

I bought my supplies, scratched my card and won a cake coupon. I went over to “Customer Care.” The lineup had cleared somewhat, but there were still a few people ahead of me, most just getting the coupon. Possible, yes. Relatively easy but could have been easier. Pleasant? No.

I guess the store felt the need to control or track who got the coupons, but it seemed more like distrust of the staff.