Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Usability Fail - Confirm Then Swipe

I consider a fundamental goal of software, and technology in general, to make people's lives easier. To simplify, automate, and perform useful functions. When the above holds true, technology is a success. When technology gets in the way, is a hassle to use, or does not otherwise improve an existing process - it is a failing and does not have purpose.

First, a success story. Trader Joe's is a very pleasant place to shop, all the way through. The checkout process is one reason for this great experience. The first time I went to one was several years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised during checkout.

The Card Swipe device:
  1. Made it immediately obvious that I could swipe my card at any time
  2. Allowed me to enter DEBIT, PIN, Cashback options, all before the cashier had even finished scanning my items
  3. Provided a final confirmation once all items were scanned
This is pure win, on all levels. I have true respect for the makers of this device. Others get 2 & 3, but some fail to make it obvious to the user that they can swipe early. No one likes waiting in line - this helps people wait in line for less time - both the person using the card swipe, as well as anyone behind them.

Imagine my surprise when my local Market Basket got new card swipe devices a year or two ago, and they did not share this amazing feature. On the contrary - it required the exact opposite. Enter the "Confirm Then Swipe", a giant usability fail.

Here is a basic rundown of the Bad Card Swipe Device (TM):
  1. You must wait until the cashier has scanned the final item
  2. The cashier then usually asks credit or debit.
  3. The cashier reminds you to "Confirm then swipe"
  4. You confirm the amount
  5. You can then swipe your card
  6. Debit PIN
  7. Oops - you got your PIN wrong, try it again 
  8. Final confirmation (?)

What went wrong for a device with such a basic purpose to have been made this way? Is it short-sightedness of the developer? Is it due to the other vendor holding software patents? (more on software patents another day...) Whatever the cause - it really bums me out. How many wasted words are there on a daily basis, just to explain to the customers that they must confirm first? (plus the time that could have been saved if the swiping process was completed while items were still being scanned) How much time is lost by the patrons due to this every day? Per Year? This should not be the case, but sadly it is.

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