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The Myth of Technology

The Scenario:

You are in the check-out line at your grocery store and want to pay with a credit card.  You hold it out the the clerk and they say "You can just run it through this little machine in front of you."  You flip the card over, flip it back, and finally get it in the right position to swipe the stupid card, all the while with some dumb teenage employee, that deals with the same reader all day long, looking at you like your stupid.  After you swipe the card, the machine asks you a question that is different at every store with one of this machines. "Really pay (Y/N)?" You look at the fifty buttons on the keypad, finding the "Enter" button, the green "OK" button, but cannot find the "Yes" button.  The clerk finally reaches around a presses the little, unobtrusive button for you.  Now the machine might tell you to give the card to the clerk to verify your signature.

The Question:

At this point you-all on your own-should have a question. "Why is this usage of technology a benefit of me, the customer?" or even better "Does this technology even benefit the store?"  After spending some time trying to find a reasonable answer to why stores install these things I decided that this is one of the best examples of marketing genius I have ever come across.  I no longer am willing to use the things.  Now I just wait, holding out the card; the clerk usually will take it and do all the magic stuff without me even saying anything.

The Myth:

People think that something being technologically advanced automatically makes it better.  After pondering this one example, I wonder where else in my life I have made the same assumption about something I have been convinced to use, that really is not better.

The Point:

I don't really have one. Just thought I would share my two cents (with VISA).

Steamrolla
Friday, July 09, 2004

It's sure a lot faster than a check... and who still uses checks, anyway? (Except the person in front of you).

Cubist
Friday, July 09, 2004

Ya, but why add the customer swiper when there is already one on the clerks cash register?

Steamrolla
Friday, July 09, 2004

So why didn't you pay with cash? Nobody forced you to use a credit card.

Matthew Lock
Friday, July 09, 2004

These things are not great on usability...

Prakash S
Friday, July 09, 2004

At the grocery stores I go to, the customer swipes if you're using a debit card; that way you can enter your PIN. If you're using a credit card, the cashier does the swiping. It works fairly well, although I agree with you about the yes/no/maybe/enter/eject button. ;-)

Chris Tavares
Friday, July 09, 2004

my questions (from under the bridge) are:

When biochips are embedded in more than 50% of the population, will you still be able to shop at Safeways?

Should chipping be opt-in or opt-out?

How can you detect that the person front of you in the checkout queue is going to want to write a check, pay with a particular combination of coins,  buy an unpriced item or all 3?

These thoughts arose when I read that patrons of a Spanish nightclub had themselves chipped to gain entry and communicate preferred drink requests to the bar in a communication hazard zone.

hugh
Friday, July 09, 2004

Personally, I can't wait for my personal chip. Being able to provide all my details with the wave of my hand would be excellent. It could fill out "standardised" forms, pay for goods and services etc etc

My take is, the privacy/civil advocates who don't want to be chipped, shouldn't have to be. Let them continue to do stuff the old fashion way, but let me have my implant to I can worry less about mundane tasks such as paying for groceries and filling out forms.

Dan G
Friday, July 09, 2004

Before chipping became common place, I used to just pilfer people's wallets in order to steal their identity. Now with these damn implants I have to kidnap them, cut off their hands, then burrow around looking for the stupid thing. This is not the job I signed up for! I hate having to cut off people's hands!

Rick Thocket
Friday, July 09, 2004

so Dan, how to stop your chip from giving your details to the badies?  How to authenticate that you are wanting to make this specific transaction?

Does anyone who comes close enough to you - the thief brushing past in the crowd for example - get your details?  And would they be able to 'replay attack' those details to impersonate you?

i like i
Friday, July 09, 2004

I like being able to swipe the card myself. At my grocery store I can swipe my card, even enter a cash-out amount all while the checkout guy is still working through the grocery list. By the time he finishes all I have to do is enter my pin. This is especially great when in a 8item or less line. I feel like I am doing my bit to get in and out faster.

For the shoppers that know how to use the system (ie me) this is great for everybody.

For the other shoppers the checkout guy can partially help them, or do it for them entirely.

Isn't this the ultimate UI system. Both good for the experts and beginners alike?????

Aussie Chick
Friday, July 09, 2004

The US is around ten years behind the rest of the West in terms of point of sale vending.

Even my little local Coop now has do-it-yourself checkouts with the nice warm lady voice prompting you through the process of wafting the barcode over the sensor and sticking your card, or cash into the machine and getting your change or 'money back'.

Simon Lucy
Friday, July 09, 2004

Hmm probably do something like swipe my chip + auth code, similar to a PIN like we currently have.  The chip data would be useless without a PIN. Still quicker than filling out forms and other such guff

Dan G
Friday, July 09, 2004

I agree that the US is far, far behind with these kinda things. Maybe because it's a bigger country, in which it is harder to synchronize everything. And of course most of the people are much, much more conservative - besides, you have them stoopid farm people and self-proclaimed 'engineers' overthere, who stop progression altogether. Yech.
(No offense to the progressive, intelligent JOS people out there)

Long live Europe.
Well, maybe not the E.U.

Janonymous (GMT+0)
Friday, July 09, 2004

Simon:

Remember that the US is very large and diverse. So tech can take some time to propagate out across the country.

So while many places are 10 years behind, I've been using sell check-out at the grocery store for 5 years or so now. 

Marc LaFleur
Friday, July 09, 2004

"Remember that the US is very large and diverse"

You mean in contrast to the tiny unicultural European market?

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, July 09, 2004

Europe (a /continent/ of some 4 million square miles) has the same problems as the US (a /single country/ of some 3.5 million square miles).

Technology may be very advanced in Scandinavia, the British Isles, and western Europe. But things get a little less advanced in the south and eastern/south easter Europe is worse.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and the like are not exactly technology hubs.

When someone says the US is behind Europe I think they are forgetting that Europe stretches out to the Ukraine.

Marc LaFleur
Friday, July 09, 2004

But the second time you go to the grocery store you know exactly what to do and it takes you two seconds to swipe your own card. This benefits the store (more transactions/hour, less chance for cashier error or miscounting, easier to process electronic transactions), you (less time to checkout) and the people behind you in line.

So the question: is the store supposed to optimize for everyone's first time or for the more common case of people coming back? (And at least in the US, grocery stores tend to be chains that standardize on a particular technology implementation, so once you know how to swipe your card at one store you know how to do it at all stores around the region.)

I'm not saying you can't optimize for both, it just struck me that this hadn't yet come up.

Chris Winters
Friday, July 09, 2004

Simon-

I've been using those self checkout lanes here on the US' east coast for at least a year, maybe more (don't remember, not important).

They're great and all, but I've yet to find one that can read the barcode on a gallon of milk on the first, third, or 20th try - I always have to manually type in the code.

Greg Hurlman
Friday, July 09, 2004

"But the second time you go to the grocery store you know exactly what to do and it takes you two seconds to swipe your own card."

No, because every store is a bit different.  So, even if I COULD remember the obscure sequence, I can't remember WHICH sequence to use.

BTW, this isn't a problem of having a learning-curve for an otherwise powerful system.

This is a difficult, counterintuitive system. It's poorly implemented (user interface) for no good reason, other than "that's how they were made and it's tough to change 1 million installed units"

Mr. Analogy
Friday, July 09, 2004

Of course any generalisation can be refuted with a specific instance.  There are places in the US where they don't look at a foreign credit card as if it was an unexploded bomb and where out of state cheques aren't treated as a prima facie case of fraud.

Americans, (another generalisation coming up), don't trust banks but do trust the stock exchange.  That is simply a reaction to history. 

My own mother in law prefers the secret floorboard in the house but she's in her 80's.

Its quaint and understandable but when she, regrettably, pops off it means there's likely to be a 'Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World' car chase to get to the house.

(From somewhere close to the big W)

Simon Lucy
Friday, July 09, 2004

Perhaps the issue is the number of banks in the US? In Canada, there's only 5 or 6 banks offering wide-spread ABM banking, swiping services, etc, so one gets used to the variety pretty quickly.

My particular gripe is when you have to press a button matching a particular screen display. For example, they'll have four buttons lined up on either side of the screen, and they present options by displaying arrows pointing to particular buttons. All fine and good, but if the screen is inset an inch or two from the buttons, and you're very tall (or short), the buttons don't line up at all with the screen arrows. Off-hand I think Toronto-Dominion (TD) ABM's were/are the worst offenders.

Not a big deal, but I used to have lower back problems, and the particular motion of bending my knees while standing erect was extremely painful.

Just one of those things eh.

Edward
Friday, July 09, 2004

On a similar note, the US post offices just had to get rid of a bunch of brand spanking new touch-screen credit/debit card readers.  Turns out that blind people aren't too fond them, go figure, and accessibility is legally required.  One blind lady was told to "just tell me your pin number, I'll type it for you."

Keith Wright
Friday, July 09, 2004

The US also has the problem that it seems to be impossible for clerks to figure out if you're giving them a Visa Card or a Master Card or a bank card.  It always freaks me out when I'm in the states and give them a Master Card that the clerks can't see the logo and figure it out.  They always ask what the card is...

Having only 5 or 6 major banks in the country, clerks must get used to the look of each bank card fairly quickly as well making the decision about whether to make the customer scan it or use the card reader on the cash register much easier.

O Canader
Friday, July 09, 2004

"So why didn't you pay with cash?"

He likes giving the felon John Poindexter data to track his movements and build a profile, so any anomaly can be detected quickly, and storm-troopers dispatched.

Subter
Friday, July 09, 2004

> People think that something being technologically advanced automatically makes it better.

I think this belief - that because we're tech workers, we automatically genuflect before the any kind of tech - is also a myth.

I don't claim total immunity from "Hi tech good, Low tech bad", but working in IT is a kind of vaccine to being uncritical about computers and progress in general.

Portabella
Friday, July 09, 2004

It seems to me that only cranky old farts have trouble with these Point of Sale systems.  I encounter different ones everywhere I go, but it only takes me about 5 seconds to figure out how to use it, and it's MUCH faster than paying by check or sometimes even faster than cash.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, as they say.

I seriously fear for the people who have difficulty with these things.  I can only IMAGINE what sort of innovative, agile code you must write.  :P

muppet from madebymonkeys.net
Friday, July 09, 2004

The next stage, of course, is those check-out lines that don't even HAVE a person -- you "check out yourself" with the machine.

This sounds like a wonderful idea, BUT.

I was recently in a store with a clueless set of people.  They were actually slower checking themselves out than they would have been if a checker had been running their groceries over the little scan line.

I would not have believed it, but actually having a person there to take the things off the belt, run them through the scanner, take the money (or swipe the card), and bag the results -- all of this can go MUCH faster with a checker than having an individual do all this themselves.

Perhaps our rush to automate everything still has some un-intended consequences that we haven't run in to yet?

AllanL5
Friday, July 09, 2004

I love the self-check lanes... until I get stuck behind an idiot, which seems to occur 3 in 5 times.

muppet from madebymonkeys.net
Friday, July 09, 2004

Just remember, half the people you meet are below average.

Aaron F Stanton
Friday, July 09, 2004

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks, as they say.

I seriously fear for the people who have difficulty with these things.  I can only IMAGINE what sort of innovative, agile code you must write.  :P "

Muppet, how about we just assume that, for any post made to this forum, your reply consists of "I don't have that problem, and therefore anyone who does is an idiot."?  That way you don't have to actually post the message, and we can get on with the conversation.

Dr. Teeth
Friday, July 09, 2004

Nope, not at all.  I sympathize with many of the problems around here (and I don't even share them all!! imagine that!) but this one, nope, sorry.

It's a small black box with big colorful buttons all over it and a SEVERELY limitted set of options.  You can't figure out how to swipe a card and punch in some numbers?  Give me a break.

muppet from madebymonkeys.net
Friday, July 09, 2004

"I would not have believed it, but actually having a person there to take the things off the belt, run them through the scanner, take the money (or swipe the card), and bag the results"

Everytime I've attempted to use self-checkouts, I've been stuck behind users who simply can't figure it out (I was going to say "clueless twits", but really in that situation I blame the interface more than the user). Until they have RFIDs and I can just wheel through and automatically get billed for everything, I'll take a standard cashier. Having said that here in Canada debit is very prolific and many users are quicker with a debit machine than they are with cash (and with debit the user should swipe themselves to maintain physical security of their card, as card skimming is an obvious risk).

There are a lot of places where technology has been a dismal failure. Canadian Tire, a large catch-all retailer that started in automative supplies, used to have pretty good little touch-screen to look up car parts (i.e. what fuel pump goes in a 77 Pinto...) - virtually every single time I went to use them it was invariably locked up. In Union Station in Toronto there is a Province of Ontario tourism self-serve computer, and it is almost always either locked up, or sitting at the Windows desktop. That sort of nonsense has turned a lot of people off of technology solutions.

John Beyessian
Friday, July 09, 2004

"how to stop your chip from giving your details to the badies"

It's simple, we are using security protocols that are completely hacker proof. There is no need to worry about security folks, we have that problem in hand.

MS Implant Research
Friday, July 09, 2004

The US is around ten years ahead the rest of the West in terms of point of sale vending.

Overseas, even in the smallest coops, they use do-it-yourself checkouts with a synthetic female voice prompting the hapless customer through the process of wafting the barcode over the sensor and sticking your card, or cash into the machine and getting your change or 'money back'.  Whereas in the US you can deal with a real human being who will not only tally up your order, but place it in bags as well, quickly and efficiently. Resist the robots!

Where Service is King not some aging stinky monarch
Friday, July 09, 2004

Forgot to mention - not only is there better service but prices are about 1/3 of those in Europe, there is a much larger variety, and there is no mad cow disease epidemic.

Where Service is King not some aging stinky monarch
Friday, July 09, 2004

Dude, I scanned but saw no one explicity mention the obvious: you are blaming usability with technology! Hello, anyone there?

It is a bad use of technology. I agree with you. I think they are moronic. At gas stations some of those are better than others.

What about the idiot sales person constantly asking "debit or credit, credit or debit, debit or credit" ....

You should have said something like "the myth of intelligence" ... people who think they are smart take that with them into all sorts of disciplines and they run amok but since they're running with other morons few people notice.

A rule of intelligence is to ascertain your environment.  Is this the same as it was? Do I know how to operate in this environment, how to survive, etc. Most people just think everything is the same all the time and they are smart and just listen to me talk.

So we get those idiotic card swipers. It doesn't have to be that way. Hello!!! I recall my father talking about how his bosses were told they had to  hire a women back in the day.  He was pissed because they just hired ANY woman and not a woman qualified for the job which they could have done but they were morons and acted like morons.

me
Friday, July 09, 2004

"there is no mad cow disease epidemic"

At least we get the news when it's happening, not a year later.

Janonymous (GMT+0)
Friday, July 09, 2004

One frustration of mine about using cards that has been gathering steam is the insidious creep of fees into the process. It seems to me that after years of encouraging people to use cards, there is now some kind of "backlash" going on, more and more, in which they want to charge you fees for doing so! It's not that it's such a huge amount of money, but I don't like being nickle-and-dimed to death, and it's just the principle of the thing.

The self-scan checkouts at the grocery store I go to most often SUCK. I use them, mostly to avoid lines, but the helper-voice instructions rarely bear any relevance to what I'm actually doing. The machine gets *horribly* flustered over the issue of bagging. For instance, I'll scan something and bag it, and the helper-voice goes on and on about "Place the item in the bag" - which I've already done. Dumb stuff like that. :(

Not to mention, even first-time users don't need THAT much help. Helping with major operations, for instance, "Do you have any coupons?" is one thing. But do we really need to be told to put stuff in the bags?

Lisa
Friday, July 09, 2004

Everyone is discussing the self-checkout technology as if the purpose were to save us, the customers, time.  NOT!!!  It's to save the company money by reducing the number of clerks.  The company doesn't CARE if it's slower for their customers, as long as it isn't so slow as to cause customers to go elsewhere.  (Grocery customers are often a very captive market, due to the convenience of shopping near your home, vs. farther away.)

Anyone tried checking in for United Airlines recently?  Every sign, web ad, etc blares "Use self- checkin!"  All this means to United is that they reduce the number of clerks behind the counter.  For the passengers, it means you wait in one of 10 short lines instead of one long one (illusion of short wait times), interact with the computer (so you feel like you are doing something), then wait (longer than you would have last year) for someone to come and tag your baggage for you.

I fly a lot, and there is no doubt that checking in takes longer now than it used to.  Technology = increased customer convenience? NO!  Technology = cost savings by reducing employee headcount.

Biotech Coder
Friday, July 09, 2004

If you want to do this, press 1,
If you want to do that, press 2.
..
...

If you want to talk to an operator, press 0 and wait until pigs can fly.

Indeed it's all about reducing headcount, not better service.

NoName
Friday, July 09, 2004

The Sprint PCS IVR system is the worst when you call customer care.  "Claire" has to figure out what you mean.. pressing 0 results in "that is not a valid option."  And if what you're doing is outside of what the system was programmed to do, you have to fail a few times before it will put you through to a human being.  I was trying to pay my balance after I cancelled my account and it took a dozen phone calls before I got it resolved.

Jeremy
Friday, July 09, 2004

Checkout assistants ask "debit or credit" because some bank cards in the USA do both, and you have to specify which kind of transaction you want.

This choice is actually a no-brainer, because credit card transactions are free, but banks usually seem to charge for electronic debit transactions at point of sale.

Why would you have to pay to use a debit card? Well, dummy, it is more convenient than writing a check, so why shouldn't you pay for that convenience?

Also, where I live in the USA, no retailer ever, ever, ever checks the signature on cards when you buy something. Then the retailers were surprised by the number of fraudulent transactions they suffered. So now, most retailers ask to see ID whenever you pay by credit card. Tough luck if you are a tourist and you don't have your passport with you.

Ian
Friday, July 09, 2004

"so Dan, how to stop your chip from giving your details to the badies?  How to authenticate that you are wanting to make this specific transaction?"

Two chips; say, one in your hand and one in your nose.  You have to hold them next to each other to make them work; so to buy groceries, you hold your finger on the end of your nose.  I think this would definitely be a winner.

Kyralessa
Friday, July 09, 2004

"Not to mention, even first-time users don't need THAT much help. [Self-scan checkouts] helping with major operations, for instance, "Do you have any coupons?" is one thing. But do we really need to be told to put stuff in the bags?"

Doubtless you realize the design of scan item, put in bag, scan item, put in bag, is so it can weigh your items to make sure you're not, say, scanning one and bagging two of everything.  The very fact that the interface has to be such a hassle to prevent shoplifting ought to tell people something.  But I guess bean-counters don't do their own shopping.

Kyralessa
Friday, July 09, 2004

I used the self-scanner at my local grocery store, and I could not move on to the next item until AFTER I had placed my item in the bag.  This meant that I had to remove items from the cart in the order in which they should be bagged (you don't want your eggs and bread beneath a gallon of milk and some canned goods).  The human checker runs the stuff through in whatever order it appears, pushes it aside, and then it is bagged in a sensible manner.  Self-scanner at grocery stores are only usable if you are only buying a few small things.

Tracy
Friday, July 09, 2004

"one in your nose"

Darn it, now I have to cut off both the hands AND the nose? When will the madness end!

Rick Thocket
Friday, July 09, 2004

I agree with Tracy. The scanners force you to bag stuff in the wrong order. It is inconvenient, annoying, stupid, bad for your food, and a waste of your time.

I question both the competance and the sanity of anyone who thinks this system is more efficient or in any practical way better for the customer than having a checker do it.

Rick Thocket
Friday, July 09, 2004

Why don't you scan the items in the order in which you will be bagging them?  I'm sure this is inconvenient but definitely a workaround to your problem.

dover
Friday, July 09, 2004

Oho. Now I'm stuck in a queue behind someone who has a credit RFID in his left hand, a debit RFID in his right hand, his ID up his nose and has forgotten which is which. (much flailing).

Cash rulez ok. OK?

hugh
Saturday, July 10, 2004

FWIW, I've never seen a self-scanner in Germany, France, Ireland or Italy.
I'm sure there are some, but I don't know where.
And I don't know anybody who has a debit card.

Pakter
Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dover asked, why don't you scan them in the order you wish to bag them. 
We women who are shopping for families have lots of groceries in very full carts.
It isn't always possible.

Tracy
Monday, July 12, 2004

A lot of the reason for the self scanning cc machines is that it removes liability from the store if the card is stolen or borrowed.  If you self scan the card, they don't have to check id and it isn't their problem if it isn't your card.

Suppafly
Monday, July 12, 2004

Ever try to use self-checkout with a bag of fruit?  After being unable to enter price per pound, I just bagged the fruit and continued.

Cliff
Monday, July 12, 2004

+++A lot of the reason for the self scanning cc machines is that it removes liability from the store if the card is stolen or borrowed.  If you self scan the card, they don't have to check id and it isn't their problem if it isn't your card. +++

I don't know where you're from, but around here (Connecticut, USA, but I assume the law is federal) the cashier/clerk still has to check your signature on the card whether you self swipe or not.

muppet from madebymonkeys.net
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

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