I, for one, welcome our robot replacements. They just need to get smarter first.

 In Stupid

This shouldn’t surprise you, but I’m actually all for the idea of humans being replaced with machines. Anyone who knows me should know that I don’t really like other people at the best of times, and the less interaction I have to have with them, the better.

So yes, I’m all for self-service checkouts. I’m happy to go through an ePassport Gate at the airport. And those machines at the bank that can read and deposit cheques? Magical.

But here’s the thing that pisses me off.

If you’re gonna go to the effort of having these machines, the least you can do it MAKE SURE THEY’RE SWITCHED ON.

It’s something that came to mind the first time I used the ePassport Gates at Heathrow. Great idea and I’m very glad the whole biometric passport thing was introduced. But EXCUSE ME, one of those things probably cost more than my flat, so can somebody tell me why on earth you only have half of them turned on? It’s one thing to get upset being in a long queue to eventually get served by a person, but for a machine? Balls to that.

I can’t describe to you the agony of waiting for a self-service checkout only to see that there’s some out of order, or just not switched on at all. WHY? One of the very reasons self-service checkouts were introduced (well, except for cost savings of course) was to ease queues – but now we’ve all collectively gotten so good at using them, supermarkets aren’t bothering to install any more. So now we’re ending up queuing to use the very things that were supposed to reduce queues. And I find that kind of sad, because at this point, we might as well stop having supermarket brands altogether. If they’re all merging into these homogeneous places where you simply come in, pick something up and check out again, the only standard we’ll eventually uphold a supermarket to is – how much stock they have and how much it costs. It makes me feel much less guilty for buying stuff on Amazon – at least that way it’s guaranteed I won’t have to talk to anybody.

And hey, if you saw that convenience store concept from Amazon last year, it seems they already have a much better grasp on what we want from a convenience store than most of the existing supermarkets do:

Whilst we’re talking about self-service checkouts, by the way, did you know that you can mute them so they don’t yell embarrassing things at you? Yeah, there’s a little button at the bottom of the screen with a speaker on it. Tap it and save yourself the pain of being called out. One of my favourite speakers, Rory Sutherland, reminded me of the fact, and also wrote a good piece on making self checkouts tolerable.

It’s also frustrating how it’s 2017 yet self-service checkouts are still so slow. I think it’s quite easy to say there’s been no major innovation on that front for years –  and it’s hardly a secret that most checkouts are running on Windows XP, that wonderful 15-year-old technology that all the best services run on. I really believe you could power the whole process from an iPhone and it’d be more efficient and quick. And whilst we’re on software, I was dumbfounded recently to discover that they’d updated the firmware of the self-checkouts at my local Sainsbury’s. Yet remarkably, it seems they’ve been able to do so whilst not actually making any improvements to the speed or user interface. In fact, I’d argue the UI has gotten clunkier and the voice almost certainly more patronising. Fantastic.

I can’t wait for the moment convenience stores become more and more truly convenient – like the Amazon example above – but it’s going to take stores a lot of work to get there. A lot more tech, a much better UI, and absolutely no automated voices, please?

Olly Browning
Olly Browning is a freelance writer and designer based in London, founder of the creative agency Mighty Oak. Send your thoughts, hate mail, commissions, or any other business to olly@yourolly.com, or tweet him @yourolly.
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