Brooklyn Taught Him Opt-In Service Design

Do opt-ins have to be full of choices and hassle? Can we use a “default” approach to make it frictionless but meet legal requirements? Yes.

“Sir, are you a member of our Sears/K-mart (whatever it’s called),” says the cashier at Sears. “No,” I replied, ensuring that the tone conveyed my absolute disinterest in signing up for a stupid card, offer, or program.

“What’s your phone number?” he asks. I provide my number, hoping that means he’ll leave me alone. “Do you have an e-mail address?” he asks. Of course I don’t want to provide one, but that’s not what he asked. I say yes without thinking. Now I have to decide whether to provide it, or tell him to piss off. It’s the old sales rule- get a yes, and the next yes will be easier. In the interest of efficiency, I begrudgingly share my e-mail address. As I checkout, I brush past two opt-ins on the credit card machine, where I passively acknowledge I’ve joined something. He hands me a card. The subtle approach and “default bias” (where we usually choose the default over any alternative) wins me over.

What? He just signed me up? ¬†Certainly had he asked if I’d like to join I’d have said no. Here’s the sign-up form on

Had he wooed me with offers (discounts, special sign-up bonus) I’d have declined. But he moved me into the program so “elegantly” I didn’t notice it. Signing up was easier than not signing up. Did he get all my consent? Yes. Did I feel good afterwards? Sure… it didn’t cost me anything, and with minimal hassle we both got what we wanted. I got out the store only 30 seconds slower, and he closed a deal.

I paused and smiled at him. “That was smooth,” I said. “I didn’t even know I was signing up.” Surely someone had done extensive research to design such an elegant opt-in.¬†

Indeed not. The cashier gently smiled, and for the first time I noticed his accent. “I learned that in Brooklyn.” Apparently people can’t be bothered with sign-ups in Brooklyn, he explained, so he mastered the approach to make it minimally invasive. That makes sense… you can’t BS your way against a New Yorker. There are lots of people there, you see, and if someone else uses too much air or sunshine… it sets off the human’s territorial instincts. A craftier (Craftier) approach was warranted.

It’s a lesson for customer-service back in Sears headquarters. Find the Brooklyn guy in the Doylestown store, interview him, and replicate his approach. Then be sure he’s not penalized for sharing his Brooklyn-honed magical approach.

3 Replies to “Brooklyn Taught Him Opt-In Service Design”

  1. “What is your phone number?”

    “Sorry, I don’t give out my personal information indiscriminately.”

  2. Not everybody’s so easy going when it comes to providing a phone number. Ive seen people flip out and not go through with what they originally intended on purchasing, all over the simple phone number request.

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