Poor Parking Interface

Due to the fact that I’ve visited The Home Depot approximately 2,483 times this winter — I’ve noticed something. The parking interface for the store is unacceptable. I’m not talking about a web site here.

Figure 1
Figure 1

If you’d kindly take a look at Figure 1, this will all make sense.

Upon arriving at America’s home improvement super-store, I have two choices. I either park near the extreme left of the building, where I then have a pleasantly short walk to the store’s entrance. Or, I could park near the extreme right of the building, where following my purchase, I’ll have a short walk to my car upon exiting. It’s important to note that the store is gigantic

Ninety percent of the time, I choose to park as close as possible to the entrance. I think to myself, fantastic. Now I have a really quick walk to the front door. However, when I’m ready to leave the store — I only have one option, to leave through the exit located at the opposite side of the store, miles from where my car is parked. Barricades prevent me from going back to where the entrance is. I then have a brutally long walk, back to the car. I cannot win.

NOTE: The reason this is such a big deal is that it’s cold outside. Very cold. So this is merely a seasonal annoyance.

I believe the parking design at The Home Depot to be a wonderful example of bad user interface. Why must they force customers through entrances and exits that are so far apart, leaving no option of parking near both of them? Perhaps there is a good reason. But I just don’t see it.

Because I am insane, I of course attempt to relate this to a web site. It could be the equivalent of giving your users two navigation options, but with many, many clicks in between either of them. Or I may be lazy.


  1. Wyclif says:

    The reason HD used this design is because of the large dolly-like lumber cart with unidirectional wheels the store offers. HD also supplies standard shopping carts.
    I don’t disagree with you about your level of useability. But when I go to my local grocery store, which has a single entry/exit, it’s often jammed with people pushing carts, leaving their carts so they can pull their car up to the curb, removing chidlren from seats, and such.
    The dual entry/exit design of HD means that you, the user, don’t have to worry about having your path blocked, tripping, or getting injured by those big flat carts laying around. You might have to walk a bit further, but the your path is clear of interference. Same thing when leaving…everybody with a dolly is pushing it toward the parking lot.
    It’s a tradeoff. Is there a better way? Maybe.

  2. Oh Dan, the Irony. It’s all about tradeoffs, isn’t it?

  3. Dan says:

    I have to agree with Wyclif although I think if they were to put both doors on the same side of the building it would function just as well and be more user friendly.
    It irritates me too but for the opposite reason. It gets very hot in the summer where I live.

  4. Just as many browsers offer the user the chance to change a site’s interface to their own requirements by the way of a custom style sheet, the shopping experience can be much improved by the application of a device known as an overcoat.
    Although it may at first seem too simplistic to be effective, overcoats (or just coats for short), offer that in-store experience from car to store and vise versa. Throw such assistive devices as hats, scarfs and gloves into the mix, and the user experience becomes seamless.

  5. I think there might be another reason as to why Home Depot decided to use only one entrance and one exit: predictable customer flow. The rationale behind it is driven by marketing and sales.
    Forcing customers to follow a predefined path through a store enables them to promote products more effectively and stimulate impuls shopping (i.e. low price products you might think are useful but are not the reason you entered the store).
    Ikea adopts a similar strategy. Most of their stores look like sophisticated labyrinths, but there’s a clever architecture behind it. Moreover, other popular department stores do put a lot of thought in how they direct flows of customers — not only for security or convenience reasons.

  6. Jacob says:

    I’d be curious to know where the handicap parking is, and how people who have issues with mobility deal with the distances between the entrance and the exit.

  7. Oh Dan, the Irony. It’s all about tradeoffs, isn’t it?
    Ha! Touché. So very true.
    Also, while the post was sort of tongue-in-cheek, I figured some intelligent comments would come out of this. Didier offers some sensical reasoning. And Jacob poses an important question. The location of handicap parking escapes me — although I would guess the same problems would apply.
    But Drew hits the nail on the <head>.

  8. “I think there might be another reason as to why Home Depot decided to use only one entrance and one exit: predictable customer flow. The rationale behind it is driven by marketing and sales.”
    I think you are right in that HomeDepot purposefully controls crowd flow, Didier, but I think it has nothing to do with marketing.
    I think it’s probably more about safety. But that’s just a guess on my part.
    If people entered and exited the same doors, where folks leaving the store tend to have large beams of wood, large items that have sharp edges, etc… that’s just a very nasty accident waiting to happen.
    I would imagine the point of the opposite doors is to try and keep people who are leaving with dangerous merchandise away from folks entering.

  9. Jason says:

    Why not park in between the two?

  10. mashby says:

    I agree with you that Home Depot’s parking lot UI has a lot to be desired. I tend to park close to the exit. :)
    However, the worst UI out there for traffic and parking has GOT to be the Opry Mills/Operyland Hotel monstrosity here in Nashville. I swear the engineer that designed that was satan himself.

  11. Josh King says:

    This is a situation where the BuddySystem(TM) is key. Drop person A off to purchase the items and have person B drive to the contractor pickup area to collect person A and the goods.

  12. Tom says:

    A solution a popular grocery store I frequented back home used was to put both the entrance and exit doors much closer together. You still get all the added benifits of the two door system: customer filtering, security, safety, etc., but without the problem of getting hot/cold while walking to or from your car. After you’d purchased your groceries you’d have to walk back towards the entrance to exit, but you were inside while doing it. They were still seperated by a large divider, but you could walk right out to your car. Well, as long as you got a good spot.

  13. Eric TF Bat says:

    My logic is: always park near the exit. You can run from your car to the entrance faster than you can run from the exit to your car, because when you’re leaving you’ll be carrying the stuff you bought.
    Also: most people don’t think ahead, so all else being equal there’ll be more parking spaces near the exit.

  14. Todd says:

    I was just at Lowes buying an electric sander and I was thinking how stupid it was that I parked close to the entrance and then when I left I had a far walk to the car. Nice and timely post Dan.

  15. Andrei – I think you are right about it being a safety issue. I hadn’t though of that. It can get rather dangerous avoiding the 2x4s and sheetrock. I can imagine people getting impaled if they were to be going in and out the same door. If only the doors were closer together though…

  16. Sam says:

    I may be crazy – in fact I probably am, but when I got to Home Depot, but plan of action is to park close to the exit. Yes, for the very good reason that you have more to carry coming out than going in. But also because one can always sneak in the exit. That way, you can enter and leave by the same door, negating the need to worry about the long walk either way. Perhaps being upholders of good coding as we are, we are afraid to break rules. However, there’s got to be a let up. One has to break rules every so often, and why not in HD’s parking lot?

  17. benjamin says:

    I might sound like a captain obvious here but
    park directly in the middle between the entrance and exit
    I am sure the reason the built it like that was to help the flow of humanoids
    in one door out the other no congestion except at the bottle neck eg cashiers.
    its like a step by step process in filling a form

  18. Ty says:

    I have a solution to this entire mess. Park your vehicle at the front of the store, at the curb. Turn on your hazard signals–this indicates that you’re special and can park there…or anywhere else you want. I see lots of special people doing this at local stores where I live.
    Disclaimer: I don’t park like this, and I HATE those who do. I park near the exit, preferring a long walk with empty arms and a short walk with full arms.

  19. Chris says:

    “preferring a long walk with empty arms and a short walk with full arms.”
    spoken like a true shopper.

  20. Jeremy says:

    Weird, the Home Depot near me only has one big door for both. Looks like you got stuck with the bad user interface Home Depot.

  21. My local (UK) hardware store B&Q is pretty big, but the parking is in the same location but turned 90

  22. Cazzz says:

    Isn’t there a (free)delivery service in that store. Most stores over here, have a free delivery service.
    But if they want to improve the system, why dont they use the Mac- Donalds-drive-trough-system?
    The best parking interface ever

  23. Danny Bessems says:

    Cazzz’ comment might be a intended as a joke, but all the Ikea’s in my area use that approach for the bulkier products: You choose what you want, get a Ikea-person to print out an “order”, pay for that order at the cashier and finally drive with your car to a seperate warehouse and collect your bulky product(s).

  24. Danny Vegas says:

    Dan: haven’t you heard – there’s an upgrade that fixes the Home Depot issues you’re experiencing!
    It’s called Lowe’s, and it’s da bomb.

  25. melanie says:

    Dan, you are too funny! If you park at the Contractors door, you can go both in and out that way!

  26. David says:

    I suggest parking as far from the doors as possible. That leaves the best spots available for me. ;-)

  27. Ah ha! I’m learning. So, if I park near the contractors’ door (also the exit), I can go “in” there as well. I just need to watch out for protruding lumber and other sharp objects. I don’t mind bending the rules here — problem solved.
    In reference to Lowes, would it be safe to compare Windows to Lowes and Mac to Home Depot? In the past, I’ve had bad experience at Lowes. It’s clean, well organized and well lit — but the service was horrible. It’s also a longer drive there.

  28. Jeff says:

    All of these are good points, but I don’t believe that Home Depot cares so much about their customers that it’s a safety issue, nor do I believe it’s a customer flow issue. While those two factors might be a small part of the reason why it’s set up like that, there’s one obvious reason for this – exposure to more products.
    It’s no different than a grocery store, really – product placement means everything. Milk and bread, the most often-purchased products, will generally be found in the back of a grocery store. The people in the corporate offices for grocery chains do more with security videos than try to trap thieves – they will use that video to see what path people take to the milk and break and they will also study consumer activity, trends and decision-making processes. Upon getting those reuslts, they will place their highest margin “other” products along the path their customers are most likely to take.
    As someone here mentioned, it’s all about impulse buying and any retail store employs this tact. So Home Depot’s plan is this: one way or another (coming in, going out) you have to walk a large portion of the store and be exposed to products that are generally quick, impulse buys.

  29. web says:

    Now this really wouldn’t be an issue if you had a Segway now would it?
    Depending on what I need to get at the store constitutes where I park. Lugging a 40lb. bag of fertilizer almost a mile doesn’t interest me much so I normally park near the exit.
    I can’t wait till the bank technology of vacuum tubes improves to the point were your put into a capsule and “sucked away” to your destination. That’s going to be so much fun.

  30. Tim says:

    it drives me crazy too!
    the number of trips i make to home depot/lowes and the layout of their doors.
    something i found really helps is carrying a large go-cup of your fav adult beverage while shopping.
    hope this helps. :-)

  31. Brent says:

    I tend to a agree with melanie. I park in front of the contractors entrance and weave my way in, being careful to avoid the large-object bearing people coming out that door. It works well most of the time, as people generally cast off carts by the door. However, there are frustrating times that I can’t find a cart near the door and have to walk all the way back to the entance anyway… Oh well..

  32. Mike says:

    The Home Depot near me has the same setup, but since there’s never any parking anywhere near the building, it’s a moot point.

  33. Nick says:

    there are a lot of home depots in the atlanta area but the one closest to me has two entrances and two exits. it still doesn’t guarantee a short walk back to the car though since the spaces near the exits are usually full. i’d rather walk a little farther than drive laps around the parking lot like george costanza waiting for a spot to open up.
    RE: Dan’s Quote
    “In reference to Lowes, would it be safe to compare Windows to Lowes and Mac to Home Depot?”
    only if you’re talking about ms’s first, non-public, alpha of windows 95. if not, you give lowes way too much credit.

  34. Nick Finck says:

    Let me ask you why is it that the milk is aways in the back of the grocery store? If you study this question enough the answer will be “because marketing should never drive good old fashioned usability”
    Anyway, don’t even get my started about home depot, I could rant on for hours about their signage and associaited taxonamy; yes, the “screws” are not found under “hardware” or even “tools” Oh, and you’ll find the tape in the “paint” area. gotta love it.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Marketing: abusing the consumer (by exposing him/her to as many products as possible and attempting to convince him/her of his/her need for given product) while avoiding explicit fault by the narrowest possible margin.
    In other words, marketing is like O.J. Simpson. He won the criminal case but paid cash money for the civil case. He’s innocent/guilty. Now that’s narrow.
    Marketing stops just short of picking your pocket. And then calls it a love tap.

  36. I always go in the exit, just as Melanie and Nick do. I never really thought about it before. After 1 or 2 times of having to make a decision, I just took the path of least resistance. Please note: I wish I could make a insightful web design comment, however I am just one amongst the unwashed masses you design for.

  37. Jim says:

    You are in fact missing the point.
    Home Depot wants you to be out in the parking lot with your merchandise for as long a time as is possible.
    It makes the store look “popular” and “populated”.
    Applying this same gimick to a web entity is a bit tricky.
    I would suppose its most direct equivalent would be the chatroom or discussion forum.
    see ya,

  38. waylman says:

    After reading this yeasterday, I asked my friend who works at HD last night. He said to just go in the out. While the exit doors may not have handles on the outside they do have the automatic motion detection openers (at least at the stores around here) so you can go in easily enough. Besides, he pointed out that there are some 12 hanicapped spots near the entrance, making it impossable to park near the in doors.
    The doors may say exit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go in!

  39. In an uncanny set of events, I found myself at Lowes yesterday. I must say, their customer flow is superior. Entrance and Exit are right next to each other. Good. Then, for safety, there is a separate entrance/exit for contractors and lumber. Perfect. I’ve had bad customer service at Lowes in the past, but props to their parking.

  40. Elizabeth says:

    We have one home improvement store in my hometown – WalMart. Ahem. Oh wait, there’s another where Lowe’s used to be. It’s small, therefore parking and walking isn’t a problem.
    Perhaps a long walk isn’t a bad idea. We need exercise sometime, no?

  41. hartmurmur says:

    What’s Home Depot? I’ve never been sure of the name because their signage always has lights burned out.
    My favorite was “Home epot” (Homie Pot).
    I also like “Cigarettes heaper” next door.
    That’s it, I’m starting the “Lights Out” web site. Rats. Domain (www.lightsout.com) taken by Mike Tyson again.

  42. n8 says:

    Well last night I tried the entering through the exit at our local HD.
    Other than the scowl from the checkout lady (who presumably was on to my diabolical plan to thwart HD marketing and traffic efforts), it worked quite well.
    The problem is navigating/dodging through the checkout islands. A busy day might make this a bit of a challenge. I think I’m up for it.

  43. Solution: Move to California.

  44. Fredrik says:

    The reason why we make simple websites is that we assume the user is stupid (highly sarcastic post this).
    So, because you can’t figure out the parking lot interface is:
    A) You’re not smart enough to use the parking lot interface
    B) They created a faulty parking lot interface that doesn’t simplify your parking
    C) There is no practical solutions.
    Which leads us to the following, the solution:
    1) Moving the Exit closer to the entrance. Naturally, you’ll then get a consistent distance to walk.
    2) Building an entrance and exit in the middle, alternatively closing the previous at that. This way, you always get to walk a certain distance. You never have to walk further than someone parked in the opposite end of the parking lot.
    3) Have two parking lots. While you perform you business, the store has a guy moving your car to the other parking lot, conviniently placed near the exit. That way you won’t have to walk as far all the time.
    4) Build teleporting units that automaticly transport you to your car…
    As one can see, neither are realistic solutions, nor are they worth the saved distance in walking for the customer.

  45. Sean Ho says:

    This reminds me of some of the shopping arcades in Asia. My friends used to complain about the elevators of how when you want to get up or down the next floor, you need to walk around to the other side of the building to catch the next elevator.
    Of course, as many of us know the reason for it is because they want us to walk pass as many of the store as possible. So that we could be tempted to spend more of our money. Just like what Jim has explained to make the Home Depot looks ‘busy’ in the parking lot.
    I think sometimes we do this too when we design our sites. It’s natural that you will want pages that you would like to get the most exposure of to be accessed frequently. So you would provide access from other less important pages or sometimes force them to go through certain path.
    I personally don’t have a problem with this as I believe a good web site should always have a balance between what the designer wants and the reader’s convenience. One should not over-empowering the other.
    I mean, if we don’t want to be spending money, why do we go to a shopping arcade?
    On the other hand, if they want us to come back and spend more money the next time, they should make sure that our customer experience is, at the least, not too traumatising.

  46. Dave says:

    Maybe this is trolling, but if you aren’t picking up anything too big, you could just ride a bike. That’s what I do, and actually if I need lumber, I just tie it to my back. And, if you were really serious, you could get a trailer, which some of the bike shops in Chicago do. HD is about a 4 mile ride from my apartment, so it’s not too bad. And, I get to park right in front of the store.

  47. Simon Jessey says:

    A bad user interface design, such as the one you document here, should always be considered an opportunity. When faced with such things, I usually approach the organization involved and offer my services in redesigning.
    Clearly, Home Depot’s parking lot represents a business opportunity. To put it simply, they must offer valet parking. I’m sure your area has plenty of young adults looking for work during the do-it-yourself season – a workforce to be plundered by the astute businessman.
    SimpleParking should be ready to roll out soon. Your employees could be known as the ParkingBits.
    On another subject, I have long thought that the spaces in parking lots should have a fluid, rather than a fixed-width design…

  48. Jano says:

    If you have only 1 door it is obvious you want to stop near that. If you can you are satisfied, but if you cant you become upset. If there are many cars then you will be really upset.
    If the depot has two doors you can choose. Its your decision where you stop. Yor satisfaction will not so big if you park near the intrance because you are then far from exit and etc. But your dissapointmants neither will be so big because there is no relly good decision.
    So this practice somehow equlize the User Experience.

  49. David House says:

    Couldn’t you park in the middle? Actually the same distance to walk, but in manageable chunks :)

  50. Simon Jessey says:

    David House says: “the same distance to walk, but in manageable chunks”
    Shouldn’t that be manageable bits?

  51. nick says:

    Wow. that is a lot of replies to a simple gripe. I’m amazed at the number of people subscribing to this thread.
    Is SimpleBits in danger of turning into a ‘whinge’ forum?

  52. Edd James says:

    Problem: Americas big but your not…
    Solution: Live in England.

  53. Brent says:

    I don’t understand this either. The HD near me is (of course) set up the same way. I understand the philosophy of cart clogging up the doorways. However, the HD near me always has at least one, and often TWO, people in the parking lot who just return carts all day long. (Yes, it’s THAT busy of a HD). Surely they can ensure the doorway is clear?
    Maybe they should offer free valet service? That would solve the problem. Alas, I’m a business & finance guy. As such, in life, there’s no free lunch.

  54. Phillip Winn says:

    The Home Depots near me allow people (esp. contractors) to pick up loads of lumber and such at the exit. This means that the exit is (1) covered, (2) huge, (3) has a constant stream of large vehicles driving by.
    I like the Lowe’s approach, but then I live in Texas, where cold isn’t a problem. It’s 80F today.

  55. Jason says:

    Hey, at least you didn’t hit a smashed spray paint can in the parking lot and have it spray all over the car you’ve had for only a month or so.
    Their management were complete ***holes, and refused to clean the car or accept any other sort of responsibility for what happened, despite the fact that the can had apparently been hit before (I heard a crunch, not a boom..).
    I noticed the .com was gone, so I registered the .org, where I will be placing photos and the story I wrote down after Home Depot called police to the scene. At the time I assumed that it was to file an accident report, later I learned they had accused me of being “unruly” on the phone, only to recant that accusation once police actually showed up, to being worried I would be unruly…
    Parking lot neglect and poor parking lot design probably go hand in hand with Home Despot.

  56. fozzie says:

    Considering that HD is so busy, if they had only one entrance/exit then you’d probably be bitching about having to park so far away. But since they’re seperate, at least you can park near one of them…

  57. Anonymous says:

    Park near the exit and laugh at the fools who are desperate for a place near the enterance, if you happen to buy something heavy you won’t regeret the decision.

  58. Murray says:

    All the above got it wrong!
    The reason is that the architect’s priorities were never in serving the customer in the first place!

  59. Bryan says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve been saying the same thing.

  60. Colbyjo says:

    Ok ….do this…DONT PARK CLOSE AT ALL… all you people that circle the lot for the close spot waste your time.. you will find me in the store by the time you park your car… then when i come out..not a door ding anywhere.. do you all have door dings from other peoples cars?? might have…. just dont waste your time on complaining about parking… do you park 2″ out from your front door so you dont have to get dirt on your shoes??? just wondering.. walk a little.

  61. adam says:

    I work at the depot and I am here to solve your problem. You have two choices…if you park near the lumber door it serves as both an entrance and an exit. Or you can do what most idiots that shop at the depot do and park near the exit and simply walk in through the exit. Here is what I do…work there, NEVER shop there.