Adventures in self-checkout UI

Posted by & filed under Complaint Department, Usability, Vancouver.

Part of being me is that basically every possible task I decide to undertake in my day-to-day life is completely unaccounted for by city planners, architects, designers, doctors, software engineers, and so on. Sometimes, this is simply due to the fact that I am tall[1], as in the case of the face-level wall sconce mounted in the hall next to my desk at work, or the fact that everything from doorknobs to toilets are generally too low for me to comfortably operate.

Other times, it’s due to my trademark life planning.

Consider the following scenario:

I stand in line for the self-checkout station at the Real Canadian Superstore in Metrotown[2], holding a $4 bag of chips and nothing else. Superstore shoppers will note that this bag is going to end up weighing somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1-2kg. In my defense, I’m not allergic to potatoes. So it’s healthy.

Upon actually stepping up to the machine, I am prompted to enter the number of bags desired. Superstore shoppers will recall that part of their no-frills policy, they have a suckass website and charge 3 cents per plastic bag.

I select zero bags, pleased to see that whatever circulatory problem that prevents me from using touchscreen kiosks has temporarily reversed itself. Prompted to scan my item, I do so.

“Please place the item in the bag,” instructs the machine. I do not.

Instead, I toss my chips onto the bag-filling platform, triggering the weight sensor which tells the computer that an item has been added to… nothing, in this case. The machine prompts me to either scan my next item or to complete the sale. I briefly speculate about the number of people who bring their own reusuable bags to Superstore compared to the number of people who don’t want shopping bags because they’re buying the biggest possible bag of potato chips before deciding that it probably isn’t worth attempting to guess whether or not someone is living entirely on carbs and trans fats, just to see if they’re more likely to want to complete the transaction. Besides, I can’t immediately think of a way to make the “I am done and want to pay now” option any clearer.

Fortunately, the “paying” part goes well and only a modicum of grumbling and frowning is required.

[1] (Dude, please stop being offended that I won’t sit in the bus seat next to you. My legs don’t fit in there.)

[2] I am not afraid of Metrotown crowds because I can just push everyone out of my way and they’re usually too bewildered to do anything. Tragedy of the commons, bitches!

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