How it works: Self-checkout

I haven't blogged any of the info graphics in the NYTimes Circuits section for a while. This one is particularly fun. This Flash motion graphic with audio shows how the process of self-checkout works in a grocery store. The graphic steps you through the process of initiating a checkout session and explains how scanning, weighing, paying, etc. work and how stores deal with theft issues. Really neat stuff. I haven't seen it around my neighborhood yet, but seems like fun.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

It's pretty neat, but...

I'd seen this in a few stores in other areas, but only a few months ago did a local grocery store open up that had this feature. It's pretty neat, and seems to work rather well.

I wonder, though, how much time it saves for me. At this particular store, the cashiers are fairly quick, and I always have to look around to find the bar codes or find the produce number. Also, if you make the mistake of picking up your next item before you put the previous one in the bag, it senses that and locks the system, and the attendant has to unlock your scanner before you can move on.

After using it several times, I've gotten a better hang of it, but I've seen lots of people new to the concept get totally confused. Often, older shoppers or parents with small children don't follow the steps correctly, or are confused or distracted by the on-screen display. Meanwhile, the attendant is running around from station to station trying to correct problems, give tips, and make sure no one leaves without paying. And while all this is going on, the express lane right next to the self-checkout is barely being used.

This is a good example of the difference between actuality and perception. Just as people perceive websites to be usable (when really aren't), I think self-checkout is perceived to be quicker when in fact that may not always be the case. Still, if I walk out of the store with the feeling that I saved time, I'm probably more likely to go back there than to the store down the street with only "regular" lanes.

Perhaps for a ten-item or few

Perhaps for a ten-item or fewer express lane it's a good idea.

Tell me that the thing doesn't really have that woman's voice speaking "computer instruction English": "Please scan item or place on platform." For pete's sake, can't they record someone speaking a complete sentence? "Please scan the item or place it on the platform." Does the voice say that for every item? God would that be aggravating.

I've seen them and they're

I've seen them and they're pretty cool. They have a voice that tells you what to do next, it works pretty well even though the actual physical interfaces are just a bunch of thrown together stuff, not much effective design there. I chatted to a checkout lady working next to them, and she said the voice going on all day was driving her crazy. Quote: "If I ever meet the woman who did this voice I'm going to strangel her!"

Blog: poorbuthappy ease by PeterV

It is fun

Yes, we've had it for some time in my local supermarket, and it's great for if you only have a few things, after a few times using it you can fly through the process. Today I grabbed four things, and checked out in under 2 minutes.

Intresting how it doesn't show it "in use"

I think the most interesting part of the graphic is the absence of a human: apples don't float from one end to the other when I use it. How hard would it have been to implement something as simple like a FPS interface for this, where you'd hold an item instead of a gun/chainsaw/grenade?

I've used these scanners, but the voice is really irritating, especially the "Do you have any coupons?" line. There also seem to be more people having problems using it than there are in the regular lines. It's definitely up for a usability study.

We did an information graphic here at Philips for the Pronto Remote, where you'd see a full-size interaction (a person sitting on a sofa, etc) that provided context for using the remote. Explanatory text would cue a screen with the hand and the remote pushing the buttons on one side, with the TV responding on the other side. It was a little clunky, but felt more human, maybe because it anticipated each Pronto action with a goofy guy and his girlfriend talking to each other via the remotes as they switched back and forth from his sports program to her girly flick. I think a similar switch would improve the graphic.