The terrible design of Sainsbury’s self-checkout

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

“Mate, your fiver is down there” I say to the stranger in front of me using the self-checkout machine at Sainsbury’s.

I was waiting to buy my lunch while the man in front of me was confounded by the self-checkout machine he had just fed £10 into. His change was somewhere — but where? The machine beeped at him and the screen and the spooky automated voice of a detached actress both prompted him to collect his change.

Part of my job is observing people trying to use systems and interfaces. I was sliding into this “observation mode” when I realised this wasn’t a test at all, it was a real life situation where someone was confused by the system at hand. So that’s when I spoke up and showed him the money (literally).

Yesterday I assisted someone in a similar situation in the same Sainsbury’s: they had actually walked away from the self-check with £10 still in the change dispenser. When I realised he’d forgotten it I rushed over to him and tapped him on the shoulder, pointing to his money saying “Excuse me, I think you’ve left your change”. He gratefully retrieved his money and thanked me.

But even that wasn’t the first time in the exact same Sainbury’s this had happened: A few weeks back I inherited a £5 from exactly the same machine where someone had forgotten their change and had long gone. Good for me, bad for them.

Self-checkouts have been much-maligned, but as someone who pays almost exclusively with card, I find them quite good. But if you’re paying cash it soon becomes apparently they are a truly awful system.

Consider this photo of the Sainsbury’s self-checkout:

Sainsbury's self-checkout
Says it all really. Was this ever actually tested with real users?

2 Responses to “The terrible design of Sainsbury’s self-checkout”

  1. TomH says:

    Unless you attempt to use your own bags. In which case you ALWAYS need someone to come and verify the weight before you begin – even though you’re allowed to remove a whole bag at any point during the process!

  2. James says:

    Oh yes. Then there’s that. I just scan everything in and pile it up, pay, and then start loading stuff into my own bag. Otherwise you get the evil “unexpected item in bagging area” speech…

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