Dutch bicycle manufacturer VanMoof had a problem.
Co-founded in 2008 by two brothers, Taco and Ties Carlier, the Amsterdam-based company was growing fast, with a good reputation, a successful website, and worldwide orders.
But when they shipped their bikes to customers they often arrived damaged, leading to many complaints.
The company tried a variety of different delivery partners, from the big players through to smaller specialist providers, and even startups.
It did not seem to matter which company VanMoof used. The bicycles kept arriving at their customers’ doors around the globe looking like they had been through a can crushing machine.
A situation like this could be fatal for a company that depends on internet sales for a big chunk of its revenue. As they noted in a recent blog post, “Your covetable products, your frictionless website, your killer brand — they all count for nothing when your delivery partner drops the ball.”
It was a problem like this that led John Roberts, the founder of Bolton-based Appliances Online (now trading as AO), to create a sister company to handle deliveries.
Roberts explained at a talk I attended that while almost everyone else in the industry had outsourced their deliveries, he realised his customers only met one person in real life during the whole online ordering process, and that was the delivery driver.
By controlling deliveries, Roberts could help ensure the customer experience on the doorstep was a positive one.
But this was not an option for VanMoof. They delivered their bikes worldwide. It was impossible for them to control delivery from door to door.
And then co-founder Ties Carlier had an idea. The bikes were shipped in boxes that could theoretically fit a large flat screen television.
Courier companies manage to deliver TVs without breaking them all the time.
What if VanMoof printed an image of a television on their boxes? Would that help?
Incredibly, it worked. Damage to the bikes during shipping fell by over 70% as delivery firms started taking better care of the packages, as they perceived them to be more fragile.
Clever design hacks like this can nudge people towards desired outcomes in all kinds of subtle – and not so subtle – ways.
This article originally appeared in the Lancaster Guardian, where I am a guest columnist.