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Yankee Group: Mobile checkouts have a long way to go

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Nick Holland

    Nick Holland

I am not a patient person, I admit this. I recently acquired a FastLane transponder for my motorcycle because having to wait behind a caravan of drivers fumbling in their collective glove boxes for quarters at toll booths drives me loopy. Airport security is excruciating--not for the degrading nature of divulging the contents of your life to the masses, but for the rookie travelers that choke up the system. Lines make me angry. If you are standing on an escalator, I am the guy grinding his teeth behind you.

Suffice to say, retail checkouts are a pet peeve, and any means of getting me through the bottleneck of shopping carts, sweatpants and drooling toddlers is something I am prepared to try. The self-checkout lane should be a godsend then, right? Sadly, no. Here's why:

1Nothing is being done whatsoever to train shoppers on how to use them. Not a thing. Which is why almost every time I make the effort to expedite my groceries, there is someone in front of me who doesn't have any idea what he is doing. I don't blame them. Neither do I blame the 18-year-old supermarket employee who has been told to assist with bagging, but little else, standing helplessly with a blank expression on his face. I blame the corporate team who bought this technology, but skimped expenses on staff training. This is such an easy fix--have someone on hand to show first time self-checkout users how to do it, dedicate one lane to these people and allow seasoned veterans to use the other seven. Shoppers should also be trained on self-checkout etiquette (or self-chetiquette, as it is henceforth known). Twelve items or fewer is not a serving suggestion and scanning a bucket of paper coupons is also socially unacceptable. 

2The layout of self-checkouts is a yard sale. Again, I don't blame the shoppers for the lines at self-checkouts--the total randomness of self-checkouts is incomprehensible to the best of us, and differs from one store to another in a dramatic manner. I blame the manufacturers. All forty-six of them that collectively construct these ergonomic nightmares. They remind me of former Soviet cars, with separate factories making the doors, engine, lights and then a final "nazdarovya" as the components are mashed together with mallets and cow glue in Vladivostok. There is simply no logical flow from start to finish, meaning you spend your entire time in a state of panic, eyes scanning the myriad devices for the appropriate place to swipe cards, scan barcodes, collect change and weigh tomatoes. God forbid you choose to pay by credit and need to find the scratch pad to sign your name for authentication (hint--it's at the other end of the checkout from where you now stand, near the basket holding tray that doesn't quite fit the baskets). Do something wrong and the whole system freezes, a flashing light above your head signaling an interminable wait for a store clerk to notice that you are the moron that has failed the Kafkaesque trial.

It shouldn't have to be like this. Customers need to see the benefit of self-checkouts to embrace them. The benefit is time savings, and if there are no time savings that are obvious to the consumer, then they will revert to old habits. If it is confusing and awkward/embarrassing,  then they will revert to old habits. And, the same goes for any other form of technological advancement at the checkout. Mobile payments? Forget it. At least until the retailer recognizes that it is not a case of build it and they will come. Do not assume consumers are tech savvy. Or even savvy.

And as for the hardware providers. Please, try these devices out on your mothers and uncles and family pets before inflicting them on the public. Or, even better, try using them yourselves. I want you to feel my pain. 

Nick Holland is a principal analyst leading Yankee Group's Mobile Money research. His research examines the development of technologies enabling mobile transactions in both the digital and physical domains.

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