In an effort to preserve the tedious and frustrating nature of a traditional checkout line, retailers across the nation have adopted new self- checkout machines equipped with multiple banal and often unnecessary small talk sequences such as, “Did you find everything alright?”
“Call me old-fashioned, when I go into a supermarket, I expect a certain level of unsolicited conversation,” said Jack Valdez, CEO of iScan, the company that produces the machines. “If the next generation never has to experience the doldrums of a forced conversation with a bored teenager, I think our society is going to lose something important.”
The machines, developed by a team of top computer scientists, engineers and linguistics experts, are designed to engage the customer in at least 15 seconds of undesired idle chitchat. Should a customer choose to ignore the machine, its cutting-edge software instantly responds by grumbling and muttering insults at a slightly lower volume.
Early data suggests that these next-generation self-checkout machines could potentially increase wait times as much as 73 percent. While iScan acknowledged that there could be room for improvement, store managers have been generally satisfied with the responses from their customers.
“You know, it just feels like there’s something missing from a retail transaction when you take out the bland small talk,” said Kroger manager Saul Pavili. “If you don’t leave the store slightly more irritable than when you came in, did you really go to Kroger?”
Customers, while seemingly frustrated with the new machines, have noted that the simulated conversations were incredibly lifelike. The machines come with several default conversation starters, including, “did you know these are on sale?” “ooh! I love these!” and “please contact store manager for assistance.”
“Back a few years ago, you’d have sat through 30 seconds of conversation with some guy who fumbled around with your credit card and took forever to make the payment go through,” said CVS customer Dana Collins. “But now, there’s just a computer animation of that while I awkwardly wait 25 seconds.”
“On the older self-checkout machines, you’d just have to select a language. But these ones do it for you.” said customer Darren Taylor, who has visited his local Meijer several times since the machines were implemented. “Most of the time I get the overenthusiastic old lady voice who asks me about my kids, but today it just yelled at me in Spanish when I tried to use my Discover Card.”
While the machines are more advanced than traditional self-checkouts, one developer noted they would still need to notify an attendant to assist customers in 48% of cases, “even if they didn’t do anything wrong.”