Usability: Destroying Goodwill—A lesson from REI

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by Sage

Usability: Destroying Goodwill—A lesson from REI

Website Usability Reflects your Brand – Make it good

REI UsabilityI like REI. This is based on an experience, some 10 years ago, when I scaled the free-standing climbing wall in the Seattle store, and found the staff to be very helpful and pleasant.  However, I live in Canada and don’t find the emails for the U.S store to be that useful so finally, after a decade, I decided to clean up my inbox and unsubscribe to the newsletters.

I like REI, but at that point, my feelings of goodwill were dented. REI made the simple act of unsubscribing anything but simple.

I believe that my reactions are reflective of a fairly typical web user and so illustrate how a small website usability problem can alter customer perception of your brand.

Let’s walk through what went wrong:

When I click “unsubscribe”, that’s the only action I want to perform

After I click unsubscribe at the bottom of an email newsletter, I expect the next thing I see to be a confirmation page saying, “You have successfully unsubscribed”. If you must ask me why, you could include an optional survey. Taking me to a page where I have to a) think, and b) do stuff, is not what I want or expected.

It feels like one of those scam phone calls where you’re told, “you’ve won a trip” and then find out that you have to listen a 3 hour sales pitch from some vacuum cleaner salesman in your living room.  sleazy

Crazy huge unsubscribe hurdles - REI

Give me Titles that confirm what I’m expecting

Don’t confuse me with titles that don’t match the action I’m performing.  I chose to  “Unsubscribe”,  you took me to a “Your REI Email Preferences” page. I don’t want emails so why are the “preferences” relevant?

This is confusing and at the same time does not feel at all transparent. I’m questioning your motives.

REI Unsub Title

Don’t force me to provide more information

The form pre-filled with my email address and first name and then asked for surname and zipcode as required fields.

Why do I have to give you more private information?  I’m unsubscribing, why do you need my surname? You sent the email to my email address, and pre-filled the form with my first name, so you clearly already know enough information to be able to unsubscribe me.

Privacy is a serious issue for most people and they don’t like giving out personal information for free. Asking for more contact information implies that you need it for something else. My imagination takes off: Are you going to invade my privacy further by sending me more information, or selling my details to someone else?

Good-will meter severely depleted. I am now looking at REI with distrust.

Note that I almost decided not to unsubscribe rather than provide more private information. That’s not a good incentive to read REI emails.

REI Required Fields


Use comprehensive instead of sequential validation

If I haven’t completed the form correctly, tell me every single bit that I need to attend to in one list. Don’t drip feed them to be one by one as I fix the previous issue and then hit “submit”.

There were 2 required fields that I didn’t notice which meant that I had to edit and submit 2 extra times before I could actually unsubscribe.

My frustration at this point is not with the form, or with the page: it’s with REI. I feel that REI has let me down by causing me needless pain.

Remove unnecessary steps

The cardinal rule of usability is make the user action as simple as possible. Steve Krug sums it up best with the mantra “Don’t Make Me Think“.

The REI form forces me to select which types of email communication I want to subscribe to. This is unnecessary AND confusing terminology. Why should I select what I want to subscribe to when I wanted to unsubscribe? Besides, can’t you work out what I want to unsubscribe from based on the fact that I just hit the unsubscribe button within the very thing I want to unsubscribe from?.

Bad taste in the mouth.

Forced to unselect fields


For example, why choose now to up-sell me? I clearly don’t want more information.


Make it work properly

Not interested in your spamThere’s nothing that’s going to irritate people more than broken functionality, with the exception of treating your users like second class citizens because they are not from your country. This page managed to do both.

Wrong Country

Zipcode” is a required field but I don’t have zipcode, I have a postcode (and at this point in time, I’ll do anything I can not to give it to you). I have to stop and really read the text around the box now. That stops the flow

Ahh, there is an exception. If I live outside of the U.S., I should type “0” (zero) into the field.  BUT THAT BRINGS UP A VALIDATION ERROR.

REI, you forced me to lie (I don’t actually live in Beverly Hills but 90201 but is the only zipcode I know).

Try this instead

This is my recommendation for what the unsubcribe page should look like.  Clicking on “unsubscribe” in an email is unequivocal. It’s the initiation of an action that should be immediately carried out without any further questioning. There’s no ambiguity and no need for any intervention before carrying out the task.

This is what I should have seen immediately after clicking unsubscribe


End resultGood example

I should point out that I also unsubscribed from a number of other publications and, on average, it took around 4 seconds. It took over 2 minutes for me to unsubscribe from REI. That’s 30 times longer than the companies that did a good job. Imagine how long it would take a non web-savvy user.

The end result is that REI now has someone with a negative experience who it likely to tell others, and  some useless, inaccurate, contact information.  Weighing it up, I don’t think it was worth the potential effect on the brand to try to hold on so tightly.

It’s important to remember that even non-customers can affect the buying choices of potential customers.