Kroger Self Checkout – We Don’t Need No Stinking Usability Testing

uscanbrochure_5_0002.jpgIt was supposed to be a quick in and out at the local Kroger. I usually don’t shop there, but I was looking for an item that two other chains didn’t carry and I thought I would give them a try. The good news is that they had what I wanted. The bad news is that I spent most of my time in the store dealing with their self-checkout registers.

I scanned my item, it registered and I pressed the “Pay” button. The terminal then displayed all the payment options and prompted me to select one. The card reader also has a display and it said “slide your card at any time” which I did. The reader’s display then said “Enter PIN for Debit or press Credit”. I entered my PIN. At that point, it displayed “Waiting on Cashier”.

Huh? I didn’t understand why a cashier was needed not to mention the fact that there was not one to be found. I hit “Cancel” on the register display. At that point, the card reader prompted me once again to slide my card, which I did starting the process again. Once again, it ended with the “Waiting on Cashier” message. I pressed the “Call Cashier” button on the register. A cashier showed up and pointed out that I didn’t select a paytype on the Register.

Not sure whether to blame this on the programmers, the designers, the hardware manufacturer (in this case, Fujitsu) or the usability team (assuming there was one), but clearly, the card reader system should have told the register system that I was using a debit card. It prompted me for it and accepted my pin number. From the user’s perspective, why should I also have to tell the register what pay type I’m using? If that’s not doable (although I don’t see why it wouldn’t be), why couldn’t the card reader instruct me to select a pay type instead of saying”Waiting on Cashier”.  And by the way, there was apparently no notification even sent to said Cashier.

I think self checkout is a great thing for small purchases and it clearly saves companies on labor costs, but when you’re are asking the customer to interface directly with your in-store technology, it’s critical that the process be idiot-proof (not implying that anyone is an idiot). If it’s confusing or frustrating, the customers will stop using it or worse, avoid shopping with you.

8 comments so far

  1. Chris Wilson on

    I would take a guess and say that there was never any usability testing done on those machines, or atleast what I know it to be.

    Really, at this point, I don’t understand why the machines are progressing so slowly. Just take 5 min to talk with the employees working the self checkout, sit back and observe from afar. The painfully obvious flaws, such as unnecessary prompts and buttons to push, will quickly be exposed.

  2. Doug Meacham on

    Chris, I agree although the Kroger experience is consistently worse than many other retailers. The best grocery self checkout I’ve experienced is with Ukrops (a local VA chain) These guys have always been technology pioneers. They implemented one of the nation’s first loyalty card programs back in 1987 and they are really focused on the customer experience.

  3. Rational Riot » You Grocery Shop on

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  4. Don Paschal on

    I shop Kroger several times per week and use the self checkout without a problem. I wonder if the writer has trouble with his PC also.

  5. Johnathan on

    Well, since I work at a grocery store that has these machines, you should know that even at regular registers we have to manually put how you are paying. Even if you’ve selected something with your card…..
    It’s not that hard. And ours says “please select a payment type” and then if you pick atm it says “please follow the on screen instructions on the atm reader”. haha

  6. Gilka on

    Really good post- I agree with you these are a usability nightmare and I don’t understand why they don’t fix the issues. The main problem is that the machine try to register the weight of your bag each time you add/remove item to prevent theft. This is what generate the frequent ‘unexpected item in the begging area’ message.
    http://www.gilka.co.uk/2009/08/02/self-checkout-nightmare/

  7. Alex on

    Waiting for cashier is a standard prompt for regular registers meaning that the “Cashier” needs to hit the credit tender key. In this case, the self checkout is the cashier meaning that YOU need to press the credit key on the REGISTER. This is not a fujitsu issue, it is more so an issue between the coordination between a SYMBOL pinpad and a FUJITSU point of sale system. Notice that when you go through a regular register and you slide your card at any time, the pinpad says “waiting for cashier” meaning that the PINPAD is awaiting a response of a payment key at the REGISTER.

  8. raychapman on

    same experience I got out of there I told them to stop


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