Sunday, 15 August 2010

Big Brother is watching... but Big Sister talks as well!

A "news" item this morning writes about the hidden identity of the 'mystery voice' behind self-service checkouts at supermarkets. Other than saying that she - it's obviously (and apparently deliberately) a female - reminds me of a primary school teacher addressing a group of slightly backward six-year olds, I don't really care who she is. But as with many such articles, the interesting part I find is the comments people have been making in response to it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly it's revealing a 'love-it-or-loathe-it' pattern of comments, with rather more than I personally would've anticipated expressing opposition on the grounds of job losses. With a bank of six self-serve terminals, the "attendant", as he/she is called, can in theory serve six customers compared to the one at a staffed checkout - but not all six at the same time: it's simply redistributing the waiting. Ideally, most of the six wouldn't need help, but in practice they do - which highlights the other common type of comment, namely that they're unnecessarily awkward to use.

Having got some six months' experience of using them regularly now, I'd say that they seem to be designed mainly on the assumption that the customer is going to put a basket of stuff through slowly and carefully, one item at a time. Whacking a trolley-load through quickly and expertly does seem to throw it a bit, and 'Madam The Voice' can't keep up with you. A mismatch between how the store thinks customers are going to use something, compared to how they actually do in practice, perhaps?

But queues or not, my guess is that they have a very long way to go before they overtake traditional staffed checkouts as most customers' preferred way of paying.

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