I remember when self-checkout machines were first introduced, they caught a lot of flak.
I only realized how much I had come to like them when I came to New York and was kind of annoyed that most stores didn’t have them. I honestly wish I didn’t feel that way. I wish I valued a checkout system that forced at least a small amount of in-person interaction into my shopping experience and kept people employed, but I don’t. I would rather deal with a touch-screen. The machines are winning.
The closest thing to a grocery store automated checkout that I was able to find was at the Regal Cinemas at Union Square. It’s not exactly a grocery store checkout, but I figured it’s close enough.
I’ve been meaning to see BlacKkKlansman for a while, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to pick up a ticket for Thursday.
The first thing I notice is just how easy it is for me to make an impulse buy with this system. I know from experience both as a retail consumer as a retail employee that that’s half the point of having these things at all. Interacting with a machine is a lower barrier than interacting with a human being to get you to buy something.
I’m taken through some more screens, each of which only has a few options to choose from. Big buttons are displayed to make it clear where I’m supposed to hit to get to the next screen.
And this is the screen that took me the most time to complete. As I watched other people using the machines, it was the screen that they took the most time at, too. I found this interesting because this is the sort of thing that the machine can, without a doubt, do better than a human clerk. An easy to understand graphic of where you’ll be sitting. So why does this moment take the longest?
The answer became clear the more I watched other groups buying tickets. The delay wasn’t caused by the machine, it was caused by the people. Couples and groups came in mostly knowing what movie they wanted to see and when. But during seat selection, the process had to stop as they talked it over as a group.
Which, to me, is what gives me some hope about the whole automated check-out thing. Because the interaction between human and machine in this instance isn’t that.. well, interactive. It’s more like a series of switches than a thoughtful conversation. The conversation doesn’t “sparkle,” to quote Chris Crawford.
But it doesn’t need to. The best thing that this machine can do is get out of the way as quickly as possible so that the interaction that actually matters, the one between friends out to see a movie, can happen with minimal interference.
Plus it got me to buy a movie ticket without having to take the time to talk to anyone. A blessing and a curse, I suppose.