Woolworths self-checkout shows how not to do a user interface

My local Woowlorths upgraded its self-service checkouts in the last couple of days – apparently moving from Windows Vista to something that only feels about 10 years out of date. It’s an absolute shocker of a system.

At every stage there are redundant blocking questions that make the whole transaction take significantly longer than it should.

I choose to use the card only machine, simply because I always use my card. I do as instructed and swipe my first item through the scanner. Immediately there is a pop-up blocking the screen asking “Do You Wish To Continue? CARD ONLY” Well, yes, [insert shouty voice here] I wish to continue because I’m at a machine with a stonking great sign saying it’s card only!

Now I understand that the occasional person might absent-mindedly ignore the card only sign and then find themselves at the end of the process needing to have the transaction cancelled. But that has to be, what, one in a few thousand people? And there’s always a Woolworths staffer hovering about ready to cancel a transaction. So, to deal with that one-in-a-few-thousand event, every single person shopping has to start every single transaction by confirming that they are sane and want to proceed.

Continuing on, you get to the point of payment and press that you want to pay. Up comes another pop-up blocking the screen. Do you want to split the payment? Again, to cater for a very rare event every single shopper has to stop and make a selection.  What a waste of time. Simple solution? One step back instead of a button saying “Pay now” have two: one for each of the options you have to select in the stupid pop up.

Then they ask for your loyalty card. Now, I get why they insist on that step even though it bugs me by adding yet another button the press along the way. Some of the machines then intrude a final time after you swipe your card and ask for a further confirmation that you really do actually want to pay.

Then at the final moment the machine either asks if you want a receipt or just insists on killing trees by printing one out regardless of your wishes. Again a simple option several steps back that said ‘Pay now with card and no receipt” would have covered the ground.

While this does bug me on a daily basis – being a just-in-time shopper I do shop almost every day – it’s also emblematic of a bigger problem. If Woolworths was paying a staff member to stuff about with an inefficient system they’d probably fix it. But as they’ve dumped the job of scanning and paying onto the customer, they have no major incentive to fix the process. Sure there’s a background competitive issue, but I’m thinking that for most people the checkout process is only one small part of their choice of supermarket and not the determinant choice compared to what’s closest to them.

The thing that flabbergasts me about this is that this interface was the product of conscious thought. Someone went through this and decided that all these steps and blocks were a good idea and suddenly tens of thousands of shoppers are pressing on screens in bored frustration.  I just expect a huge organisation to do better.

Especially because when you do some research on self-service checkouts you quickly come to two conclusions. The first is that they are universally loathed because they are costing jobs and pushing tasks back on the consumer. The second is that they are magnets for shoplifting petty crime. Given there’s no chance of returning to fully-staffed checkouts, perhaps the awful interface is part of a subtle plan to get rid of in-store shopping entirely and push everyone to online shopping.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to buy some milk and get my daily dose of self-service checkout frustration. Listen for the scream.

One thought on “Woolworths self-checkout shows how not to do a user interface

  • November 8, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Evan – I shared your excruciating pain too. Exactly the same situation at Gordon. Vista??? Are you kidding me? I am now going to the IGA. Or Aldi. Bad move Woolies.


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