Boundary Conditions

While Sumukh was looking for some school supplies, I was browsing through the aisles of OfficeMax and ended up at the CLEARANCE section. As you can imagine, I was expecting rock bottom prices on the Clearance items. One of the clearance items caught my attention for a totally different reason. Here is the ticket for your reference:

As you can see, the original price is $229.99 and the clearance price is $229.00. You will save a whopping 99 cents if you buy the item in clearance.


Obviously, that item does not belong there and it makes no sense to announce a GRAND SALE that will save the customers on a purchase of $229 to save 99 cents.

The world of boundary conditions

One reason this kind of goof up happens is that systems were not designed to handle boundary conditions. As we all know, there is a logic built into the systems that will determine which items go into the clearance table and the labels get printed. Somebody had to build one more piece of logic that will ensure that there is a minimum of X% discount when an item goes into clearance. Since most items (probably 99% of the items) will have a large discount anyway, there is no big problem. However,  1% of the items that have a meaningless discount make it to the clearance table.

The Consequences

These boundary conditions invoke feelings that range of amusement to pure distrust on the pricing of every item in the clearance table. Rather than creating “impulse buys” at the clearance table, now you have created skeptical prospects who will want to check the prices again and again and possibly compare that with what price the same item is sold for online. Earlier, it would be difficult to do all those checks but now a simple scan with a shopping assistant such as RedLaser will reveal prices for the same item in a dozen different outlets.

Lessons for all of us

Boundary conditions exist in almost every project that you undertake – be it launching a product, writing a book or simply trying out a new recipe. It would take a few extra minutes during your planning process to pause and think about these boundary conditions and see if you have factored in your plan to handle at least the major boundary conditions. It would be better to pay a small price upfront than to pay a big price at a later date.