Self-service checkout machines. Is there any other machine we interact with in the modern world that is quite so odious?
As I stand in line to use one of these infernal devices, listening to the sighs of frustration from the customers ahead of me, I debate whether it’s worth it. The extra minutes I’ll save from not queuing up for an old-school conveyor belt, or the agony of a vein exploding on my forehead from using one of the damn things…
Cannot verify your bags
Whilst I can’t condone shopping in socks and sandals, I try to be a good eco-boy by bringing my own bags to the supermarket each week. (Somewhere in the Pacific there’s a baby albatross with one less plastic bag in their stomach who’s thanking me.)
Each week, I duly select ‘using my own bags’ and place my deluxe hessian bag in the bagging area. And each week I’m told my bag can’t be verified and that I’m to wait until an assistant arrives to help me. I’ve tried placing my bag down gently as if it were precious cargo, in the hope of getting the machine to acquiesce. I’ve also tried ramming it down, in the hope that announcing my bag’s presence with a punch will have better results. Neither works and each time an attendant has to be called over.
What does it take for a bag to verified without calling the work experience boy over? Why not tell me so I can alter my behavior or bring a different bag? If this isn’t possible, then why not just say so? Want to use your own bags? Press here to call an attendant over.
Transparency. Don’t lie for the sake of sounding technically competent, because God knows the machine is failing at that one.
Unexpected item in the bagging area
You’re merrily scanning and bagging, accompanied to the sound of beeps from the bar code reader. Until, unexpectedly, the machine interrupts:
Unexpected item in the bagging area. Remove this item before continuing.
WTF? I’ve just scanned that wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano. I live in Islington – buying expensive cheese should hardly be unexpected behavior.
Hold on, did it scan? Was the scanning beep I heard a false memory? Or…
Unexpected item in the bagging.
Half way through the next error message the machine catches up – it’s found the cheese after all. Thanks for scolding me just because you’re a bit shite.
Please remove your card
This being slow doesn’t just extend to playing catch-up, often the machine is downright one step behind. How many times have you been told to remove your card after removing your card from the chip and pin machine? It’s very dull being told to do something that you’ve already done.
A lack of focus
A lot of these problems stem from having to be able to deal with the worse case: yes, items do get dropped into a shopping bag without them being scanned occasionally. Of course, the system needs to be able to deal with every eventuality. But many of these problems stem from the checkout machine trying to do too much.
Interacting with one of these machines is a nightmare, with slots, swipes and scanners all over the place. Fiddle up here and remove whatever from down below – the interactions are all over the place. What would happen if the experience were concentrated down? If these machines are here for convenience, how about *just* focusing on paying by card and getting the shopping experience *right*? Do one thing really well rather than lots of things badly.
What does this all mean?
Rants aside, I do have a point to make.
It baffles me that someone, somewhere has said “yep, this is it, this is good enough to have our name on it.” I know that systems, services and platforms are always a balance between what can be achieved within the time, money and expertise available. I’m also sure that these machines are a huge technical accomplishment: it’s a barcode reader, measuring scale, cash dispenser, payment and touch screen device in one. That’s unbelievable.
However, that’s all wrapped up in a truly dreadful customer experience. Could some of the time (and money) spent integrating three different payment types into one device been better spent getting the shopping experience right?
Of course, being able to accept notes, coins and cards was probably part of the brief so the manufacturer isn’t all to blame. However, how much better would it have been if someone had had the confidence to say “we can do it… of course we can do it… but it may not deliver the experience you’re looking for.”
It would have been a bold move, possibly a courageous one. However, each time a customer uses one of these machines and is frustrated, I can’t help but wonder about all the money supermarkets spend each on branding, marketing and creating the perfect store environment. Millions of pounds a year and it comes down to this? My last thought as I walk out of the supermarket isn’t of quality or value for money, it’s of my last experience at the store:
Unexpected item in the bagging area. Remove item before continuing.