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October 11th, 2006

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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

(25 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 11th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
I'd feel weird about keeping more than $20, but like you said, there's no way of returning it to its rightful owner, so I might as well have it as my fee for cleaning out the cash back spout.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 12:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, I forgot about the HAY CHECK YOUR BASKET AGAIN NO REALLY CHECK IT I MEAN IT prompt. That one's always a fun one too.
[User Picture]
Date:October 11th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC)
I know it sounds stupid to say I will return the money, even though it's not going to go to the rightful owner, but I just can't keep it. The guilt.

If it's really not going to go back to the rightful owner, I would give it to charity - the first homeless guy I see, or around Christmas, the Salvation Army Santa, etc.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 12:03 am (UTC)
I do admit I was kinda hoping someone would approach me on the street askin fer some change. Had a bit of a philathropist's fantasy there, Scrooge's redemption -- here, have a ten. What? Not enough? Here, have another! Hey, it's not my money! Enjoy! Bye!

But that kind of wishful thinking is along the lines of the old religious joke that ends with one member of the clergy saying "Tell you what. We draw a circle on the ground, throw the money high up into the air, and what God wants, he keeps."
[User Picture]
Date:October 11th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
I'm the girl who found two five-dollar bills in a dorm hallway and remembered that the RA was collecting donations of fivers for some charity thing, and returned them to her because they couldn't have been anyone else's.

But... I would really really want to keep any change that someone left behind and wasn't coming back for. :P Would the store take someone seriously if they called looking for their lost money? I doubt it. Once they've left the store, it's probably too late.

I adore self-checkouts, but ours work better than you're describing. And I won't use them if there's a lineup. I'll only use it if there's nobody ahead of me, because I think I'm the only person smart enough to get through an order without having to call a clerk.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)

Wet blanket over here would try to give it back.

Maybe I'm the lone naysayer here, but in this here electronical age, stores must have a record of every single damn transaction. It seems likely that a previous customer at that self-check lane used a credit or debit card to obtain cash back.* So, couldn't the store check their transaction records and track down whomever made the cash-back transaction prior to your own?

I don't actually know the answer--maybe they couldn't do it in a simple, timely way--but if I found myself in that situation, I'd probably inquire with the management on that. If it's not possible, I'd use minkrose's grandma's strategy below, wait a few days, then consider it mine if it's unclaimed. Yes, you may call me Goodwife Two-shoes.

*Of course, I suppose it's theoretically possible that someone could've used a $50 bill to pay for exactly $30 in groceries, but if the store could check on the transactions as specified above, they could tell me if that was the case and then I could guiltlessly keep the cash.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Wet blanket over here would try to give it back.

I'd ask, yeah, and I like the strategy below. That was me very close to bedtime last night, and my brain was probably very easily fooled into thinking it would be hard to track down the owner.

I was thinking they probably paid with cash and got a lot of change, as opposed to forgetting that they used cashback.
[User Picture]
Date:October 11th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
it's funny, i have guilt about a lot of things (like if i fail to hold the door for someone and they have to pull it open THEMSELVES) but not about someone's money that they will never get back anyway. weird.
[User Picture]
Date:October 11th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC)
The self-check machines at HEB, whether you get cash back or not, emit this piercing beep and say DON'T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR CASH. I think there might also be bright lights.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 12:46 am (UTC)
I think it was Don Norman who pointed out that handmade signs are reliable indicators of a user interface design failure. I suppose professionally printed ones and even computer-displayed ones can do the same.

At the Stop & Shop where I used to buy groceries, the "YES/NO" indicators on the credit card entry pad were unrelated to the nearby buttons that they would, in any rational design, indicate. I remember complaining about this once and the cashier immediately asked me if I was a computer programmer, because she'd noticed that the people who brought this up were all programmers.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:34 am (UTC)
Oh I thought that said "I like to check boxes."

I like to do many things with them.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
The part I hate the most is when the machine thinks I haven't put the scanned item into the bag.

Me: It's there! I can't help it if you're slow.

And I end up taking the item out of the bag, wait for it to acknowledge that it's somehow lighter, and then put it back in and wait.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
I like it when I've scanned the item and have it in my hand but I have to open a new plastic bag. Then it becomes a frantic race to get the bag open and the item in the bag before the nice recording helpfully suggests that I please place the item in the bag and I'm like LADY I'M TRYIN HERE CUT ME A BREAK I'M ONLY HUMAN only I don't really say it out loud because there's enough nuts at Shaw's already
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:55 am (UTC)
A bit of qualification to my answer "keep all of it!"

Stores really won't go out of their way to return change to customers. I know this, you know this - we all, in our hearts, know this. Here is what you should do! A couple of years ago, my mother walked out of our local photo developing place which is in a kind of strip mall area with a liquor store and a Cingular Wireless store, stuff like that. She found $20s scattered around the parking lot, amounting to something like 200+. She gathered up all the ones she could find and went back to the photo store to say that she'd found some money, if someone came to collect it, here was her phone number. She did NOT tell them how much she had found.
Sure enough, the next day a man called her saying "I lost some money in the parking lot last night - the photo store gave me your phone number." She asked him how much, and I believe his answer was actually the amount she'd found (or off by a $20 amount) and so she met him at the parking lot and gave it back to him.

So, if you have an amount of money that is larger than you feel comfortable keeping, tell the manager, leave your contact information and leave it up to fate. If the person can find you to get the money, they should have it. If they don't bother, then it's yours.
I left my purse under the table at KFC once and I remembered about 15 minutes later. This being South Worcester, there was almost NO chance of it not being stolen, yet when I walked in and asked them, someone had given it to them up front. I really wished they HAD stolen all the cash in my wallet because I was so grateful that I hadn't lost anything else (I used to carry a huge bag-purse - because of this, I have stopped doing that!). Life is funny sometimes. Enjoy your $20!
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:58 am (UTC)
You forgot the checkbox for "I never use those things because they are THE DEVIL." And not in any useful, sexy, fiddle-playing way. I prefer sullen, vacant-eyed cashiers to the "privilege" of doing more work at no benefit to me.

'Cause hey, I used to be a sullen, vacant-eyed grocery cashier. I actually sympathize with their stupor. It really does eat your mind after a few hours.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 02:38 am (UTC)
Keeping the moneys. However, I don't think I've ever found more than about five bucks, and I've probably left as much.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 03:08 am (UTC)
I can't believe so many people out there don't like check boxes. What is wrong with them?
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 03:53 am (UTC)

you forgot an option

look around for someone cute and say "Hey, did you forget $20 in the self-check?"
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 01:10 pm (UTC)

Re: you forgot an option

Oh if it were only the cute people who forgot their money!
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
I would keep the money (with vicious glee) ONLY because I hate the self-check so much. But then, I never use it for just that reason, so... my loss, perhaps.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I've always hit the YES button when using my ATM card, and everything worked fine...
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
I like the "FREE METRO PAY-PAH!" guy. terras doesn't, but then, terras is a curmudgeon.

When are you at Davis in the mornings? I would love to run into you commuting.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
I actually don't take my FREE METRO PAY-PAH from the old guy outside because then I'd feel bad passing up the usual Metro passer-outer inside (who's normally the middle-aged man with glasses.)

So I always give a cheery hello to the old guy, and he seems to like that just fine, and then I give a cheery hello to the actual Metro guy, take the paper, and say "thank you" and he always says "You're welcome, my friend."

Life's been so much more cheerful since the Xanax!
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
I would never keep it because I am Canadian.

Also because I know that they have approximately 3 billion security cameras focused on the self-check out area lest someone slip an extra bun into their bag, so I would fear being plasterd all over the TV on a hidden camera show about dishonest people. Of course, guilt and fear are very Canadian things, so I guess it all goes back to the first reason.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
I would give the money to charity. The MSPCA could always use $20.

Returning it to the supermarket makes NO SENSE. It's not Shaw's money; it's just like you found it on the street.

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