Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Stapled Shut

Tell me if you've heard this one before.

On the way home I decided to stop at the local office supplies store. You know, the one with the commercial with the two guys racing down the aisles towards the one open checkout, only to be stopped by a lady who informs them that "there is more than one way to success" or something like that as another checkout opens.


After gathering up my stuff I head towards the one open lane where there are two gentlemen ahead of me. Gentleman #1 appears to be a business customer of some sort. He checks a couple hundred bucks worth of stuff through and then hands over some sort of voucher or coupon to pay for a portion of the bill. Whoops, that coupon has already been used. So he pulls out an envelope full of different pieces of paper and tries them all out.

The cashier has just turned 16, I think. She's scanning all these barcoded documents while staring at the computer screen. Some of them don't scan cleanly, and she keeps passing the paper somewhere near the scanner while watching the computer screen. She apparently doesn't understand the concept of the scanner beeping on success.

So finally it's gentleman #2's turn, and he has two items in his hand. This ought to be a piece of cake, right? As it turns out, he is trying to return one item for credit on the second item. He's purchased the first item on his American Express card, so the cashier asks for the card to issue the credit. Well, that account is cancelled. So I stand there while the cashier figures out how to fanagle a store credit onto a gift card and then use the credit for secondary purchase. She scans gentleman #2's receipt some 20 times (while watching the computer screen of course, as if she expects American Idol to pop up at any second).

By this time there are approximately 10 people behind me. I haven't had my after work wind-down yet, so there's dust and flame in the back of my mouth where I've ground my teeth. Here's the punchline - the second avenue for "success" opens right as gentleman #2 finally wraps up his order. Literally, I stood in line for 20 - 25 minutes, and my checkout time for 15 or so items took about 90 seconds.

The cashier asks me if I belong to or would like to join the stores reward program, and I tell her that I would be duly rewarded if she would just get me out of the store.

There is nothing more aggravating than waiting to give somebody or something my money. The sole reason most businesses are in business is to separate me and you from our money. Good businesses do this efficiently, and by doing this efficiently they give me and you a good, warm feeling that we will not run into obstacles the next time we frequent their establishment to be separated from our money again.

My vision of the shopping future in heaven (or Fantasyland, for those of you not-so-inclined) involves interactions with approximately zero human beings... and I'm completely not referring to the shopping experience that some grocery and home shopping stores are currently trying to foist on you*.

You go to the store, pick up a cart, and wave your SpeedPass-like device at the cart handle. The cart "logs you in" and you go shopping. Every item in the store is tagged with RFID which, when placed in your cart, adds it to your bill. There's a little readout on the handle of the cart that tells you what the damage currently is.

And when you're done, here's the great part, you walk out the door! Your cart tells a scanner in the door on the way out that X amount of dollars should be charged to account Y and, somehow, prints a receipt out for you (some genius can figure that part out).

Voila, I got the stuff I wanted, the business has separated my money from me, and I didn't have to injure anyone in the process.

*I'm talking about the self-checkout lanes. What a crock! Are those really supposed to help you get out of the store faster?** Scan my own items? Do product code lookups? Weigh the items? And what is with the micro-management of placing the item on the belt immediately after scanning it? I scan/lookup/weigh everything, put it on the belt which sends it to the other end of the store, pay for it where I scanned/looked it up/weighed it, walk down to the other end of the store, bag it, walk back and collect my receipt. Somewhere during the bagging process I'm trying not to put the items of the next customer into my bag.

**Needless to say, if I have so much as a quart of milk I use a checkout person.

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