Hey Active.com, I know that a lot of races rely on you for registration. And you do some things really well, like handling the spike of traffic when a race opens up for registration. But you do some stuff really badly. Here’s some feedback about things you could do better.

Negative Option Billing?

I always hated it when I go to buy something like movie tickets and the retailer tacks on an attempt to get to you pay for some extra “membership.” They often try to make it look like the membership is part of the normal purchase workflow. The membership will often renew automatically unless you do something to stop it (a so-called “negative option”). The claim is that the membership might save you money somehow, but in practice most people find stuff like this infuriating. So infuriating, in fact, that Congress passed a law against negative-option marketing.

This weekend I was trying to register for the Vineman Half Ironman triathlon. The registration fills up in less than five minutes, which is a recipe for people hurrying to pay for their running slot as quickly as they can. After going through the registration, here’s the final screen that I saw:

Active.com membership offer

For someone anxious to finish registering before a race fills up, this page looks very close to a “click to accept our EULA terms” page with an “I understand” checkbox in yellow and an “Accept” button in darker blue. Paying $64.95 annually to get rebates back in $5 and $10 chunks is a money loser for most people. The plan automatically renews each year, which is the “negative option” that so many people hate. And waiting 30 days to charge the $64.95 will surely make it harder for many people to figure out exactly where that $64.95 charge came from.

This program may be legal, but in my opinion it’s deceptive and poor form. It makes me not trust your company and actively look for alternatives. The running community deserves better than this sort of behavior.

Regular feedback

Okay, that’s the harsh thing I had to say. Now let’s walk through an example of bad usability. First, you need to have search that works well for most cases. Here’s what I saw when I tried to register for the Vineman race. I went to the website and searched for Vineman, then got an automatic suggestion for “vineman half ironman 2015″:

Vineman autosuggest

That looked great, so I clicked on that suggestion and got one result:

Vineman search results

So I clicked on that result and I got this:

Vineman training program

If you look in the lower left, you can see an alert that says “There are 393 people checking out this event.”

Can you spot the issue? Here’s the problem: the event that you’re showing for registration isn’t the actual Vineman triathlon–it’s a virtual training course where you pay $95 to get monthly emails with advice on training for the Vineman.

If I wanted to register for the Vineman and I accidentally got shunted to a virtual coach training course instead–while the actual race sold out in under five minutes–I’d be pretty frustrated. It looks like Active assumed I was in Milpitas, California (that’s not correct, but it seemed harmless enough that I didn’t change the city). Then Active assumed that I wanted races within 50 miles of Milpitas, and so it didn’t show the actual race, just the training course.

The part that makes this bad is where Active shows “393 people checking out this event.” That helps the training course look like the main race. I think there’s a bug in those people counts as well. When I eventually found the official race registration, check out how many people are reported to be checking out the Vineman:

Vineman bad counts

Active is claiming in the lower left that 28,959 people are checking out that page? Really? For perspective, less than 2,200 people completed the Vineman this year, and that’s after clearing out a waitlist. I would believe 29,000 pageviews for that race, but 29,000 unique users sounds really high. I saw the count increasing by a thousand or two people each minute before registration, which also lends credence to the idea that Active is counting pageviews or reloaded pages, not unique users.

Read more here:
Feedback for Active.com

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