Thankfully most modern societies no longer tolerate animal cruelty in the guise of entertainment. The problem is many brands and business still expect their customers to jump through similar hoops.

Circus animals perform their ‘tricks’ because they are given no other option. Their handlers poke and prod them until they jump through the hoop or dance for us. Secretly of course we are all perversely waiting for the animals to fight back

So while on one hand we are disgusted at such behaviours, as brands and businesses we often then turn around and expect our customers to ‘dance’ for us. Making them jump through ‘hoops’ to satisfy even their basic requirements.

Do Not Cause Friction

My last post (Creating frictionless customer experiences) discussed the need for any business to deliver seamless and straight-forward customer experiences. We now live in a ‘one-click’ world and anything that makes a customer think or act too much, you lose the sale. It is that simple. The ‘I want it now’ culture we are surrounded by does not wait, does not buffer, does not excuse.

I had two great examples of what I call ORCHESTRATED FRICTION recently. This is when a brand or business actively designs an element of their product delivery to cause customer friction. Why you would want to do this is beyond me, but seemingly some business like to watch their customers jump through hoops. Perhaps it is their only entertainment?


Recently I bought a new Surface Pro laptop. Like most shoppers I did some research online and then went to a store to experience the product itself. In the store they offered a ‘10% cashback’ offer on the sticker price. Considering the cost of this particular hardware, that was a tempting offer and so I bought it. Immediately the hoops came out.

It turned out that I was NOT getting the cash taken off the sticker price. According to my receipt I would have to wait 21 days to claim my cashback, and then after that time, have a limited number of days within which to do it online. When I did eventually remember to claim, I was made enter all sorts of inane data (receipt numbers, model numbers, store numbers) and then their system told me it would ‘consider’ my application. I was one of the lucky ones and they granted the cash-back and offered me a pre-paid MasterCard, which of course is not cash back at all. To be fair, they also gave a ‘direct to bank account’ option but they know that most shoppers will never give their bank details to random retailers, and so MasterCard it is.

Jump Customer, Jump!

Now let’s just review the hoops here. The first hoop they make you ‘jump’ through is that they don’t give you the cash back there and then. The second hoop is that you have to wait 21 days to even claim. Now we all know this is designed in the hope that 3 weeks later you will forget. They will spin some kind of ‘3 week system excuse’ but we know it is straight trickery. The longer you leave a customer to file for cashback, the more likelihood they will forget. Then you set a maximum time limit too, so even if they do find the receipt weeks afterwards it is ‘oops too late’. Orchestrated Friction.

The third hoop is the claims process itself. A complicated online form to be submitted. Codes to be found and entered. Submitting and awaiting their clarification that your claim is valid. And finally awarding you the claim but not in cash at all (I’m still waiting by the way).

This is all designed to minimise cashback returns. Welcome to Orchestrated Friction.

I then had another example of such price friction only this week.

Like many of us I struggle to get my photos from my phone into some kind of memorable format, and so every now and then make a photobook. As a previous customer, Photobox sent me an email with a promotional offer. Buy a €33 photobook for just €21 today and the credit is there for you to use anytime in the next 30 days. Now again, here we have the time limit friction, but this makes sense. I am guessing November and December are the peak months for Christmas and End of Year and so their promotional offer is to trigger some purchasing in the quieter months before. That way they get the promotional production out of the way pre-November. So we will leave them off their 30-day friction here.

But at least they remind me 3 days and 1 day before my credit is to expire (which Curry’s certainly were not going to do!). I needed to make my photobook or else lose my credit. So late at night, I lie in bed on the last day and open their app to make the book. I know what event I am going to record and so prepare to simply flick the 50+ photos into some order, add a few titles and click SEND. Oh would life be so easy.

Frustrating Photos

Now remember this is a TECH SOLUTION product. This is a ‘next generation’ business, not Kodak playing catch-up. After 10 minutes searching on their APP for photobooks I give up. They are not listed (hoop one). The Live Chat operator tells me you can use the APP for lots of Ordering but not for photobooks. I will have to use a PC (hoop two). I explain it is midnight, I am not in my office and my credit runs out tomorrow. I expect to be able to use their APP to complete my order. He agrees and kindly offers to extend my credit by another 31 days to apologise. I go to sleep dreaming about photobooks and friction.

The next morning I awake to a Photobox email asking me to click the ‘PAY NOW’ button for my credit extension. They want €3.

I laugh. I mean what else can you do? Here is a next generation business who has an APP that doesn’t allow you process an order that you have pre-paid for, and then charge you for the credit extension you need because of their product fail. A next generation business that doesn’t understand the ‘mobile first’ world we live in. So because I don’t want to lose my €21 credit I jump through their hoop and pay the €3. Orchestrated Friction.

But now, I am an angry lion (if you skipped the You Tube clip you have to go back up and watch it to get that reference)

Friction breeds Resentment

Rub your hands together really fast as you read this (if reading on a phone then if you can actually do that, join that Ukrainian circus!). Friction causes heat. Enough friction causes pain. So just like those lions, if brands poke us enough we will react.

Some will react on social media, broadcasting their dissatisfaction amongst their peer network and beyond (if you want an entertaining version of this, watch Dave Carroll’s ‘United Breaks Guitars again – always worth a repeat watch).

But most will quietly take their business elsewhere. I will never buy from Curry’s PC World again. I will delete the Photobox App from my phone as soon as my order is delivered. Brands simply don’t get second chances anymore, not in this frictionless one-click world. We all want it easy.

Yes customer experience mistakes will happen and good brands deal with them well. But actually ORCHESTRATING friction within your product delivery or customer journey? That’s like going swimming with sharks wearing a bikini made of raw meat.

That’s just Ga Ga!

Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

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