Hell Hath No Fury Like a Consumer Chipped Off
<Evan Schuman - eWEEK
Joel Hansen, a 45-year-old Texan, was visiting his local Wal-Mart last
week to purchase some food at about 5:30 p.m..
After what everyone seems to agree was an unpleasant human-computer
interaction, the self-checkout terminal had a smashed-in monitor,
courtesy of the fist of the consumer.
Hansen was charged with criminal mischief by Tarrant County Sheriff
deputies in Fort Worth on April 19.
The police version of events has the machine rejecting Hansen's debit
card, but Hansen told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that that is not
His version of events-which has a very credible and familiar ring to
it. "I had scanned a couple of items and it locked up. I tapped it and
got it unlocked. I scanned a few more items when it again locked up,"
the paper quoted Hansen as saying. "I was tapping it again to unlock
it when it shattered. It was a glitch."
The unit locked up and the customer found a physically helpful way to
unlock it. Heck, if it works, stick with it. It gives a whole new
meaning to Blue Screen of Death. In Texas, monitors should be
forewarned that it might be Blue Screen Equals Death.
Of course, it is likely going to take quite a tap for a self-checkout
machine to collapse, but it's hard to temper one's tap when those smug
superior-than-thou displays declare in their omniscient way that you
have done something wrong.
"It had locked up, and I was tapping on it when it shattered," he told
the paper. "I even got glass in my finger." OK, so the checkout
machine got a few licks in, too.
Contactless payment is another popular retail technology designed to
minimize human involvement. To read the latest about contactless,
My favorite is what happened next. Let's tally this up. The
self-checkout machine freezes-twice-and you have a hungry customer
with blood oozing out of his finger.
"When it happened, I was expecting help or for them to move me to
another checkout," Hansen said.
That last quote makes me wonder if this was his visit to a
Wal-Mart. He was expecting help? Well, he got it. Employees offered no
assistance other than asking him to wait there for the police to
arrive. He declined the generous offer.
This interesting tale of the Texas tussle wouldn't have meant much had
this column not discussed an incident a few months back when a
Winn-Dixie customer threw a Bible at a clerk trying to register
customers for a biometric payment system.
As kiosks, ATMs, self-checkout units and even drive-through automated
supermarkets start to push human employees into the backroom, the
bakery, the parking lot-anywhere but in the aisles helping
customers -- the ultimate reaction of consumers is up for debate.
When computers -- such as POS (point of sale) systems-assist retail
employees and then glitch, it's the employees who feel the frustration
and are paid to deal with it.
But the latest round of self-checkout and kiosk systems fully replace
employees, forcing consumers to deal with the machines themselves.
It's the ultimate in frustration: Consumers drive to a public place
and likely wait in various lines, all for the privilege of seeing a
computer crash, most likely with their credit card maybe charged,
Security won't let you leave-unless you want to risk a shoplifting
charge-until the computer says it's satisfied with you.
The idea of kiosk in-aisle pre-sales support is great on paper, until
you realize that this is the same technology that powers most vendors'
automated tech support centers. Those usually revolve around an FAQ,
which generally consists of 10,000 answers to questions you don't want
Every other month, some vendor calls us boasting of the creation of a
database that uses regular English. Despite their claims, it
invariably ignores the essence of the question and instead locks onto
to any word it happens to recognize.
Kiosks armed with this capability had better watch out in Texas.
Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internet's Enterprise
Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been
opinionated long before that and doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. He
can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.
Copyright 2006 Ziff Davis Inc.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I personally do not know why the man
chose to go to Walmart, if there was any other grocery store in town
he could have used instead. Maybe he can sue Walmart for the injuries
done to his hand by the glass on the computer screen, and for false
arrest in calling siccing the police on him. About two years ago,
Walmart Super Center had run all the grocery stores here in
Independence out of town (Dillons, Country Mart, Safeway). For about
six months, even the dedicated Walmart-haters had to go Walmart to get
their groceries, like it or not. Then about six months after that
happened, an Oklahoma store -- Marvins -- opened up in the old Country
Mart location downtown and things got back somewhat to normal. And
despite what Walmart says, Marvin's prices are just as good and the
variety is almost as good. PAT]