October 11th, 2006

Tom Lehrer is Smug


I'm not sure who designed the checkout points of purchase at Shaw's supermarkets, but I'm willing to bet it was a friend of the lowest bidder who designed the Charlie Card machines. There are so many stupid little user interface problems with things that it's amazing any actual currency-based commerce is conducted successfully there on a daily basis. I think we'd be much better off going back to the bartering system, only I'd hate to be out of chickens when I need to buy more toilet paper.

The first example of this supermarket dorkitude is the credit/debit card pad, which has been much discussed among Bostonians and Bostonians with zeroes where Os ought to be. The first few steps of this payment process are easy enough: you swipe your card, choose DEBIT or CREDIT or EBT or AZT or IHTFP, enter in your Redundant RPIN Number if necessary, and then select the amount of cash back, if any, that you would like.

The total is then displayed on the touch screen like this:


do you want to go out with me? circle one
[YES] [NO]

Along with the touch screen, there are buttons on the keypad marked YES and NO. If you push NO on either one, the transaction is cancelled and you have to swipe your card all over again.

If you push YES on either one... the transaction is cancelled and you have to swipe your card all over again.

The correct procedure, my little nublets, is to press the ENTER key on the keypad. (Oh, yeah, by the way, there's an ENTER key on the keypad.) Yes, the UI asks you a question and instead of being able to answer with the responses provided, you have to hit a wholly different key altogether. It's pretty much the worst Interactive Fiction puzzle ever, and the only way you solve it is by typing UNDO and trying another button, or by reading the helpful sign that used to say "WHEN ASKED IF THE TOTAL IS RIGHT HIT ENTER, NOT YES" until someone ripped it off the unit. Or maybe you'll luck out and get the cashier who says "don't-hit-yes-hit-enter-don't-hit-me-either-I-didn't-code-this-piece-of-crap."

Now that one's just annoying. And as counter-intuitive as it is, it isn't potentially profitable for you, the consumer. What can be a potential windfall for you is the horrible way the self-checkout lanes at Shaw's are designed.

It's a very easy concept, right? You scan your own groceries, put them in the bag, pay with cash or card, collect your change or cash back, and hey presto you've not had one single iota of human interaction but your groceries are ready to go! And, truth be told, once you get the process down pat, it does go by pretty quickly. But the self-checkout unit is, again, designed by a complete moron who probably also thought the original iMac puck-mouse was a pretty neat idea.

See, the touch screen and scanner are on one side of the unit. The racks of plastic bags are in the middle. The payment collectors -- bill acceptors, coin slot and card swipey thingy -- are on the other side of the unit. No problem, very ergonomic, you move from one side of the unit to the other as your transaction progresses. Scan, bag, pay, get the hell out of Dodge. Left to right (or right to left if you're reading Hebrew or Arabic.)

But what if you want cash back, or have some change coming your way? Oh, that's easy. Anyone with half a brain could intuitively divine where the little compartment that dispenses your bills will be. The little compartment that dispenses your bills is, of course, in a hard-to-notice location, back under the scanner part of the unit. It's nowhere near the place where you pay and therefore is naturally very hard to miss. So hard, in fact, that there are signs put up all over the unit that says DON'T FORGET YOUR CHANGE! IT'LL BE UNDER THE SCANNER. DON'T LOOK AT ME, I'M JUST THE SIGN. P.S. IF YOU FORGET YOUR CHANGE WE CAN'T REIMBURSE YOU. STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT. GOD I HATE BEING THE ONE TO BEAR BAD NEWS. WHY CAN'T I BE THE SIGN THAT SAYS "BUY ONE BOX OF DELICIOUS COOKIES AND GET ONE FREE" OR SOMETHING? EVERYBODY LIKES THE BUY-ONE-GET-ONE-FREE SIGNS. NOBODY LIKES ME. I'M EVEN LESS LIKED THAN THE SIGN THAT SAYS "SORRY, WE GOT BUSTED BY A 15-YEAR-OLD IN A STING OPERATION AND CAN'T SELL CIGARETTES FOR TWO WEEKS." JUST PUT ME IN THE SHREDDER AND GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY.

As an added precaution, when you're done with your transaction, the pre-recorded chipper voice who guides your every step through this amazing shopping quest also says "Don't forget your change! It will be under the scanner. No, I don't know why. Stop asking me. This is a recording. Thank you for shopping at -- Shaw's!"

This evening I used the checkout lane at the Porter Square Shaw's and, worried it was going to start raining before I made it home, asked for $20 cash back so I could go annoy a taxi driver with a piss-ant fare from Porter to Davis. Yeah, cabbies have been known to complain to me about small fares. What do they expect when they stand at the supermarket in Porter? Airport fares? JUST BOUGHT MY CANNED HAM AND DRY CEREAL, NOW IT'S OFF TO SUNNY ACAPULCO!

Christ, I'm digressing like gangbusters tonight. Must've forgotten one of my meds today.

At any rate, when I asked for the $20 back, I got it in tens. I scooped my change out of the compartment, shoved it in my wallet, and hightailed it out to see if the rain had come. It hadn't, so off I went down the street, busily humming a happy tune. Then I pondered that maybe the wad of cash I'd grabbed from the change compartment felt a bit thick. Checking my wallet, I realized that I'd grabbed four ten-dollar bills from the change compartment. I looked at the receipt; the charge was exactly as it should've been for me. I'd grabbed someone else's forgotten twenty along with my own.

I'm kind of on the fence about this -- $20 seems to me to be as much extra money as I could take and not feel compelled to give back to the manager. But then again, what could the manager do? The store already says they won't reimburse forgotten change ("You say you left $20 in the self-checkout change bin? Yes, we seem to have had twenty dollars turned in to the Lost & Found today. Could you describe the bills to me?") and really, it's no longer the supermarket's money, it's some poor schmoe's change and who knows how long ago they forgot it.

So hey, free twenty bux. I'll go hog wild and get two coffees tomorrow morning, plus one for the elderly guy who hangs outside the Davis T stop with a handful of papers, hollering "FREE METRO PAY-PAH!" (It's clear he's not an actual Metro employee, as he doesn't wear the vest or hat and there's an actual Metro giver-outer inside the station itself; he's just this old dude who probably lives in the elderly housing place up College Ave and who apparently likes getting up in the morning to play paperboy and talk to people. I like him.)

But what about you?


What's the most amount of left-behind money you'd feel right keeping from the Self Checkout?

I'd turn it all back in

here is a check box

I like check boxes