Thursday, May 24, 2007

Newer doesn't necessarily mean better

Hemköp, a Swedish grocery chain, might just have an easier time herding cats or reversing the side of the road an entire country drives on than is currently the case with its implementation of a self-service checkout at its main Stockholm location. Wisely (and I choose that word carefully), they decided to test the new system at closing right about the time you hear the automated voice announce, "Dear shoppers, Hemköp City will be closing in fem minuter. Please take your items and proceed to the checkout." However, the dulcet tones of Hemköp's farewell message left out the rest of the message: "Please take your items and proceed the checkout, and be prepared to queue all the way down aisle 7 behind 20 other of your shopping compatriots whom we have selected as our guinea pigs during the implementation of our state-of-the-art self-service checkout extravaganza."

And so looks the introduction of four new "self-service" checkouts (that nonetheless require a staff member to show you how to scan your broccoli). The lines were moving about as quickly as molasses in January as shoppers tried to beat the living shit out of the touch screen after it failed to respond to their caresses. It took five minutes for the "smart" scanner to read the barcode, after which another three minutes were required for it to tell you to place the item in your bag – or to scold you if you try to put it back in your basket. Then you had to start all over again when it failed to recognize the validity of the barcode on your well-deserved can of Pripps Blå with its whopping 2.0% alcohol content.

But the only other option to the "smart" checkouts was a "not-so-smart" employee who was even slower than molasses in January. In fact, not only was she slower than molasses in January, she wasbslower than molasses in Antarctica, regardless of the month. She appeared to have difficulty with the concept of "market economy," let alone the revolutionary idea of "credit card." Twenty customers to one employee – and Ms. Speedy-is-my-middle-name at that – seems like a fantastic customer service plan. Back home, it would work for one very simple reason: you wouldn't have any customers left. Problem solved.

But the best part of all: the four guys in suits observing the implementation of the self-service kiosks. They sat there smugly, smiling and sniggering and appeared to be quite self-satisfied with what they seemed to consider to be an obvious success. But I know how their new system can be even better. How about taking the management mod squad out of the suits and putting them in red uniforms? I'd really like to hurry up and pay for my knäckebröd already.


Blogger Å said...

Well, welcome back. And just to let you know, in Gothenburg the "self service" service works wonderfully and saves me a lot of time. Best of luck next time...

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

My Swedish partner said on seeing self service tills in the UK "That won't work in Sweden people will steal things" - she used to cause a riot at the checkout by lining every item up single file in the middle of the belt with the barcode facing the cashier. Nice to see you back ...

8:33 AM  
Blogger jayKayEss said...

We have those self-service checkouts in the US and they work pretty well once people get used to them-- but I've NEVER heard of a place that got rid of the cashiers altogether; that's just nuts.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Curiosa said...

Well, I would say it's a combination of the general level of customer service in Sweden combined with the desire to be super modern and ultra high tech. Trouble is, it takes awhile for people to catch up to the technology and trying it out on the night that three cashiers call in sick is a really, really bad idea.

5:54 PM  

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