Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The 3 reasons I hate "Self-Checkout Machines"

I really hate them. Really, really hate them. And I never really thought too much about why until recently.

I am a child of the tech generation. I got my first computer (a beloved ZX Spectrum) when I was 9 years old and learned to program on it. I studied Computing at University and have made my living from it.

Better still I used to work for a company that specialised in software to print and read barcodes. So you'd think scanning my own shopping would be right up my street. So why isn't it?

I mulled this over at length yesterday and I think it boils down to three separate things:

1) Something always goes wrong. I mean this literally. I have probably used such machines about 10 times (I told you I hate them). Whether it's one of the barcodes not scanning or a "3 for 2" offer not registering properly, or some "problem" with an item not having been put in the baggage area when it has been or a vegetable or pastry that doesn't seem to have been included on the manual selection system. It's always something. Which means like some naughty schoolboy supplicant I have to put my hand up and call over someone to come and help me, every f'ing time.

2) I am doing the supermarket's job for them. A few years ago the idea that I would check my own groceries out would have been ridiculous. I have gone round the shop and picked the items out. It's the shop's job to determine what I have selected and how to charge me. Why would I do that last bit for them? It just feels wrong. Not to mention how I am helping to do people out of jobs.

3) They are coercing me into using these bloody things. When they first came along a few years back there would be one or two of them. They were a novelty. Now in many places (especially "metro" versions of supermarkets) there are about 16 of the buggers vs a couple of checkout staff on normal tills. And hence people like me who just want to hand over the goods and pay without faffing about have to queue up in longer and longer lines whilst those who are willing to CONFORM TO THE NEW DOCTRINE are through and out more quickly as I stand around. In fact in a WH Smith's once (in Waterloo Station fairly late on) there was literally no choice. I presented my item at the till and the man told me I had to do it myself. I tried to scan my packet of Werther's and as per point 1) it didn't work. After several attempts I called him over and he tried it. It didn't work for him either. In the end I just physically handed him the money and asked him to sort it out after I had left as I was about to miss my train to which he said OK.

It surely won't be long before these self-service things are the only way to checkout in lots of places. I heartily resent this "innovation" in customer service but trying to fight against it is increasingly like pissing in the wind.

Which I am still happy to do myself.


Paul Robinson said...

I don't have the issues with self-service machines that you describe above, but i appreciate that many others do. It occurs to me that this presents an opportunity for smaller independent retailers to market themselves as offering a more personal service compared to the large supermarkets, especially as I can only see the 'big four' heading in one direction: total automation of all checkouts. I think this sort of differentiation is just then sort of opportunity that High Streets need if they are to fight back.

Denny said...

I'd have no objection to using them if they actually worked reliably, but like you I've found that to be extremely rare (and unlike you, I've used them a lot).

Top tip: they can be made far more tolerable by muting the annoying voice prompts. There's a volume control bottom left of the screen on most of them.

SadButMadLad said...

I write software for a living but I also design UI and I know that trying to cope with the huge variety of human life is just about impossible with computers. And my experience of self-service just proves that. They are perfect if are in the narrow band of what they were designed to handle. But woe betide you if you aren't.

Buying a single item, don't want a bag, but didn't bring your own? No option on the menus. Want certain type of change, maybe only in 10ps for a reason? Tough. Can't remember the actual name of the exotic fruit you chose? Tough, you'll take longer than the expert cashier who has been trained to recognise it at 10 paces. Etc. Yes all unusual situations, but that is still a lot of unusual situations for many different people.

Paul Walter said...

Paul Walter said...

Something I knocked up a couple of years ago....