Summary: Ryanair made it purposefully hard to use their online check-in system in order to trick people into paying 40 euros for checking in at the airport. Wolt‘s online ordering system’s flaws make it easy to miss items on your order, letting them charge 11,90 e to deliver a 1,50 e cheeseburger when you intended to order more and pay less. Their customer service says it’s the client’s fault if they fall for this.
Here’s the full story.
The Ryanair ripoff
I was looking for the cheapest way to get from Helsinki to Berlin reasonably fast. There was a direct Finnair flight for 160 euros, and a Ryanair flight from Tampere to Bremen for 80 euros. The transportation from Helsinki to Tampere and then Bremen to Berlin took two hours and 20 euros on each end, making the Ryanair option cost 120 euros in total. As a student I didn’t mind the longer trip, and was happy to save 40 euros for something more exciting and memorable later in the trip.
This was about a decade ago, when it was still customary that airlines required you to queue at the airport to get your printed boarding pass from their customer service person after answering some questions. They had just recently figured they could let customers answer a couple of those questions through their website before arriving in the airport – an online check-in that made the queues go faster. I had traveled with a bunch of those and the online check-in was always a breeze. They companies would send me an email with a link to my personal check-in form, I’d answer the questions in a couple of clicks and the whole thing was done in a few minutes.
Not so with Ryanair. Their email about checking in online only had a link to their home page. I went there twice, logged in, and doggedly searched for the online check-in option. I couldn’t find anything with that name. Their website was a colorful mess full of advertising. I recall reading it was an intentional choice to create a feeling reminiscent of discount retail stores where you sometimes find the best deals. In the absence of anything labeled as a check-in, I went through everything I could about my bookings there and answered all the related questions on display. I spent some 15 minutes both times, looking in vain for an online check-in. I finally came to the conclusion that if there’s nothing that has that name, then the questions I’ve answered must have been it and were just missing a clear label. Wouldn’t be unthinkable as their website didn’t prioritize clarity.
Then one day I was finally at Tampere airport and it was my turn to get the boarding pass. The lady behind the counter said “you haven’t done the online check-in”. I told her I had seriously tried to, completing all the forms and answered all the questions related to my flights that I could find on their website. She said that the online check-in was missing, so I had to pay the offline check-in fee of 40 euros, or I would not be admitted to the flight.
I figured they had to do a lot of work for this manual check-in as it was so expensive. The flight ticket was 80 euros and included the usage of the airplane, the jet fuel, services of the pilot and co-pilot, and the staff on the plane and on the ground servicing the planes. What did the offline check-in include at half that price?
The pressing of one button on the cash register.
That’s all it took. She pressed a button, I handed her 40 euros, and got the boarding pass.
The offline check-in didn’t include any work that they would have been trying to reduce with the online one. The online check-in had been created as a deliberate hurdle to trip some customers into paying extra. The harder the online check-in was to find, the more likely some customers would miss it, and those suckers would be punished by increasing their ticket price by 50%. More, if you bought early and had gotten a cheaper ticket.
Ryanair wasn’t selling airplane tickets for 80 euros. They were selling tickets for 80 euros plus a game of hide-and-seek, which you must play and win or pay an extra 40 euros.
I decided that’s not a game I want to play. If I don’t know what I’m getting when I order from you, I don’t want to do business with you.
Ryanair ended up costing the same as Finnair did while providing a worse service. In both cases I ended up paying 160 euros. With Finnair I would have saved hours of my time for doing something else than watching gas stations go by the bus window.
It’s been a decade and I’ve never used Ryanair since. They got to keep their ill-earned 40 euros, but ended up losing more in profits every year, as neither me nor many of my friends use them anymore. Whether I’m flying with friends, family, work or other groups, when someone suggests Ryanair and I tell them why I don’t use them, they have invariably agreed that the whole group will fly with a company that is working for the benefit of their customers, not trying to trick them.
Wolt and the cost of bad user experience
While Ryanair had gone out of their to design a way to add hidden charges, Wolt accomplishes the same in a more lazy way. It almost seems like an honest mistake on their part, but their customer service insisted that it’s the customer’s fault if they fall for it. While I don’t disagree with that entirely, I do disagree on an important part of that, because there’s a lot they could do better but decide not to. A company that decides that anti-customer behavior is ok, even if it wasn’t the originally intended behavior, is not one I want to do business with either.
Here’s what happened.
It was a snowy evening in Helsinki. I was walking home, using my phone on one hand to order home-delivery food so it would arrive soon after I’d arrive myself. It was dark, I had to pay attention to my surroundings while walking to not get hit by a car, and my hand was freezing while as I couldn’t keep a glove on while using the phone.
Wolt’s website is one of the slowest and most likely to freeze a web browser even on a high-end laptop. It’s even slower and janky on the phone, responding to scrolling and other user actions with unpredictable delays. Still, so far I’ve managed to make my orders, and was trusting that should any issues occur, their customer service would be top notch in helping resolve the issue and keep their very profitable customers happy.
For a company like Wolt, it costs a lot to attract a new customer, but after that the profit they make from each is excellent. They just have to keep people happily ordering more. Having raised hundreds of millions of euros of funding and benefiting from massive economies of scale, they certainly don’t lack the resources to do so.
Turns out they do lack the will.
To stave off my starvation I ordered a big hamburger. As an afterthought I added also a small cheeseburger – I was that hungry. I added both to my order by tapping the “+” icon next to both, and the website clearly reacted to both taps. At checkout I saw the sum: 11,90 e. My hand was freezing so I didn’t stop to do the math, but figured this was in the ballpark I would expect for a big burger, small cheeseburger and delivery. I confirmed the order and happily put my glove back on to start melting my hand.
I wasn’t ready for the increasing waves of disappointment that would wash over me when my delivery finally arrived. The first was an obvious one: there was only a small cheeseburger left at my door. I logged back into Wolt to report an item missing in my delivery. The system asked which one it was out these:
[ ] Cheeseburger
There was no other option.
Turns out they had registered only that order, not the big burger my belly was aching for. I checked what they had charged me for:
|Base delivery fee
|Small order surcharge
11,90 euros for a tiny 1,50 euro cheeseburger! That’s the most expensive two-bite burger I’ve ever heard of. It’s also more than 90% markup, with the restaurant getting to keep just around a euro after Wolt deducts their commission from that 1,50 e. All the other items above go to Wolt in their entirety. When Wolt receives an order of 10 e of burgers and 1,90 e of delivery, as is their usual and fair case, they get to keep a lot less than in this case and still make a hefty profit. The profit they made from this extra charge is nowhere near reasonable.
I was famished, had waited to receive only a morsel of a burger, and had been charged unreasonably highly for this. Surely this a far cry from what the company stands for, the customer service will be empathetic and help resolve this in a satisfactory way, I thought.
I reached out to customer service, but in vain. Just like Ryanair sticking to their terms & conditions that entitle them to charge an exorbitant 40 euros if the customer doesn’t find and complete their stashed-away online check-in, Wolt was sticking on technicalities. Because the customer is able to double-check the order details, they feel fully entitled to keep any small order surcharges they get to charge when accidents happen.
They’re right, of course. To a degree.
In which ways are they wrong?
- It’s up to them how slow and janky their website is. The better it works, the smaller the chance of misclicks.
- It’s up to them how hitting the “add to order” button works. They can make the visual cue be very, very clear so it’s distinguishable in all conditions. Their current way of being clear enough only in better conditions is not the only way.
- It’s up to them how missing to hit the “add to order” button works. If this is clearly different from a successful hit, the chance of accidents is reduced dramatically. There needs to be a gap around the button that doesn’t react to a tap – a safe zone for missing the actual button. It’s clear whether you hit the actual button or not when hitting it triggers a clear visual feedback, and missing it does nothing. Wolt’s mobile website fails this. If you miss the button by a hair, the website reacts to that, expanding the product information display and scrolling the button outside the screen. Browsing in a hurry and hungry, as is common for Wolt users, it’s not hard to misinterpret this.
- It’s up to them how the order confirmation page displays that the user is about to be charged over five times the normal delivery fee. I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere, so probably it was visible only if you went out of your way to inspect the order details. If it was clearly spelled out, ideally in a high-contrast alert notification, I would have gone to add the missing item to my order and wouldn’t be writing this.
- It’s up to them whether they ask the customer to confirm whether they really intended to pay this high extra fee. I can’t think of anyone who would really want to pay 11,90 euros for a 1,50 euro cheeseburger, but know many who’d be livid if they were charged that much for that little, and want to know how to avoid that in the future. Turns out the most reliable way to avoid surprise 5x delivery fees is to not use Wolt, as they indicated they have no intent on improving any of this. I hope they reconsider.
For those who don’t mind paying five times more for delivery, there can be an option to disable the confirmation.
- It’s up to them to keep their charges reasonable. Ryanair charged 40 euros for pressing a button, which was so far from reasonable that they lost a customer for good. Wolt charged 11,90 e for getting a 1,50 e burger around a few blocks, when their legitimate pricing would include many times the amount of food for that price. If they had charged double or perhaps even triple their usual delivery fee, I might have been able to accept that, but there’s no excuse for charging this much for nothing.
Wolt’s customer service is right that technically they had the right to make a website with usability issues and charge a high price for a single burger when the customer had missed a click. There’s just no reason for a customer to keep supporting a company with these kinds of practices with their wallet. If you don’t show remorse and intent to improve when your service causes problems instead of solving them, I don’t want to do business with you.
The way to show remorse and intent to improve as a business is in three parts: Apology, proper compensation, and working on the improvements (identifying, communicating and executing). What I got from Wolt was a half-hearted apology and a free delivery token (worth 1,90 e). These don’t come anywhere near covering the disappointment of a hungry person when most of their food order never arrived or the surprise loss of 8,50 euros for nothing, let alone both. What I didn’t get was proper compensation nor any indication that anyone in Wolt was interested in improving this part of their customer experience a single bit.
By insisting on keeping their ill-gained 8,50 euros, Wolt stands to lose more than that every month in lost profits from myself alone. And as usual, it never ends there. Before this I was recommending people to try Wolt, getting them who knows how many customers; now I will be recommending people and organizations to use the competitors instead.
Your happiest customers are your best marketers, and your most dissatisfied customers are your competitors’ best marketers.
This might be the least profitable 8,50 euros Wolt ever made.
What else is wrong with Wolt?
Because the point of this text is to identify things that could be learned from, I happen to have two more things related to Wolt in mind. It might be worth clarifying that the intention is not to speak ill of Wolt, but to help them and others identify what could be improved and how. They, like many other companies, have people with hefty salaries working hard to figure these things out. I’m happy to give a helping hand in the hopes of getting better customer experiences for us all in the future.
The first main thing is that Wolt shows you an annoying cookie notification on every page view. It’s misleading and likely illegal. It’s not about cookies, it’s about tracking you. There’s three things they do wrong here.
First, you can’t make the option to accept be any easier or more attractive to select than to not accept. This is clear as day from both a moral and legal standpoint. I believe Wolt is breaking the law by having “Accept” as an attractive, high-contrast button taking just one click, and “Not accept” be missing. There’s only an unattractive, unclear, low-contrast “Manage”, that may or may not lead you to an option to “Not accept” some clicks later.
Second, they try to confuse you by speaking about cookies. Cookies are just a tool, like a knife. The only thing that matters is what you use it for. While they do state their intent later in the message, there’s no reason to speak of cookies at all, apart from trying to confuse the user and tire them out of reading the meaningful words later in the sentence.
Third, they also keep showing the annoying notification even after you’ve logged into an account on which you have gotten rid of it earlier. They fail to use their ill-gained “acceptance” to do what they claim to ask it for: make the service easier to use and personalise content.
The other main thing is that their payment options lack the convenient MobilePay, which their competitor Foodora blissfully has. Due to this I had to add my credit card details on Wolt with freezing fingers to complete my order, which compounded the other issues described above.
Hopefully other companies and people will be inspired to make better choices in the future. Ryanair and Wolt both charged unreasonable amounts of money from their customers by exploiting usability issues in their services. Ryanair had created those deliberately, whereas Wolt was merely happy to not do anything about them as they allowed them to charge exorbitant fees for nothing every now and then. Who wouldn’t like to sell at triple the usual profit? In this case, the ones who are not short-sighted. Both lost a customer and the associated future profits, far larger than their illegitimate short-term gains.
Sure, some people accept all kinds of treatment from companies, and keep using them despite dirty tricks. That’s why we don’t have better companies… yet.
Luckily many people desert a company when they experience or hear from systematic bad behavior. That’s why we have companies as good as they are now, and not worse. People vote with their wallets and feet for better companies every day. The more people show they care about this, the more incentive companies have to improve.
It pays to always think of your customer’s best, to make sure your service design helps them do what they want and avoid mistakes, and help smooth over any issues whenever they happen.
It’s also the right thing to do.