Monday, 14 September 2009

Ergonomics and Supermarkets


This morning I stopped in the Safeway next to the hotel I'm staying at, to get a couple of things. The staffed checkouts were quite busy, so against my better judgment I decided to use the self-service checkout for my three items.

I should really know better. With the honorable exception of ATMs - which somehow they got right early on and and which have stayed right ever since - just about ALL of these self-service booths seem to have been expressly designed to be impossible to use successfully without help. Which is why, for example, you will always find airline staff hanging round the self-service machines at airports. (Although they do mostly seem OK now, but for a long time they would always have some trick to catch you out just when you thought you were getting there. For example, the British Airways machines wanted to check the card used to buy the ticket - impossible if you had a company ticket issued through a travel agent. And I NEVER got a Lufthansa machine to work in the days when I flew with them just about every week).

Anyway back to Safeway. To my amazement, it let me scan all three items. As long as I ignored the irritating voiceover telling me about all the other things I could do, it seemed to be going well. Then came time to pay. I slid my card through the debit card reader, keyed my PIN, tapped "confirm", and all seemed well.

Except that the actual checkout screen said "amount paid $0.00". I pressed the help button and the store manager came along. Turns out you FIRST have to tell one screen how you want to pay, and THEN use the separate payment machine. It took several minutes to straighten it all out, made more complicated by the fact that I refused to scan my card again since I'm sure that I would then have ended up paying twice.

Now, how hard would it have been either:

a) to figure out that when you slide your card, you probably want to pay by card, so accept the payment

b) or if that is really too hard, then disable the card reader until you have made a payment choice?

In the end it all ended OK, in that I left the store with the items I wanted and didn't get arrested for shoplifting. But why does it have to be so painful?

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