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Standardizing the retail checkout process

You're standing at the end of the checkout aisle, confused. No it's not because one of the items you bought was mis-priced, it's because you have no idea how to pay for it. With the rise of the debit card, transactions shifted from a "hand over your credit card to the associate" to a "do it yourself" model all for the purposes of speed and efficiency...

The problem and hypothesis were clear - if we make the checkout process more efficient we'll be able to process more transactions per day, increasing our revenue from one simple change. Seems reasonable enough.

Sounds good.

Sounds safer.

Sounds more efficient and all around easier.

It was good... for a while.

Lack of standardization for adopted patterns leads to deviation and confusion.

About 10 years ago I started to see a shift, from a product based model of "these are our payment terminals" to "how would you the customer (the retail store) like your payment terminal customized to best serve your user."

Again sounds logical. Companies are listening to their customers who should be listening their users on how best to serve them. The payment processors are listening to feedback and acting on it. That's what you're supposed to do so what could possibly be wrong with that?

It was good, and still is - to listen, but when our patterns of adoption start to create behavior change, and then interactions leading to successful completion start to significantly deviate from one place to the next, the overall success of the user, the efficiency, the ease starts to come into question.

Feature creep set in towards the idea of being able to modify the pattern of user payment, with no standardized systematic agreed on way for a user to complete a transaction every interaction with the system becomes:

  • How do I pay for this?
  • Do I hit cancel or ok for credit?
  • Oh you still need to see my card to verify it?
  • Why is this chip card taking so long?
  • Do I have to sign on the terminal? or on paper?
  • Oh I don't have to sign at all?

What if pumping gas worked the same way?

To put it in perspective, gas stations and cars all have a standardized way for you to receive gas for your car, an activity that's frequent for most...

  • The nozzles are all the same
  • The interaction of how you connect with your car are the same
  • They're all relatively the same size
  • Have the same trigger mechanisms
  • Heck even electric cars charge using the same interaction method, you take a nozzle like device and plug it into the car...

What if every single gas station could configure their own design, you pull up and despite having pumped your own gas for years, you're met with confusion about how to operate it because it is designed in a fundamentally different way.

Systems of interaction when globally adopted and create fundamental behavior change need some level of standardization and consistency for the sole purpose of reducing user confusion. 

I'm not advocating that standardization needs to exist in everything, it can be stifling to innovation and doesn't allow for people to challenge and make improvements. Alliances between groups all striving for the same goal can accomplish by providing human interaction guidelines. iOS and Android have both published guidelines of interaction for their platforms, Apple and Microsoft have done it for years to provide a foundation of familiarity. Why too can't payment providers do the same thing? After all going back to the original problem statement - this was supposed to make it more efficient, to increase transaction speed... wouldn't standardizing on a set of guidelines be a good place to start?

To help jumpstart this here's just few ideas:

  • The red X cancel button shouldn't be used to approve anything... ever.
  • Use the same keypad layout, with a unified location for approve / cancel
  • Stop asking yes / no questions when you can use the same method to allow the user to choose something more specific.
  • Ask me if the card's credit / debit / whatever first if you don't know or the card could be used multiple ways.
  • Prompt me if I don't have to sign so I don't pick up the pen.
  • If the retailer requires the card be verified and its being used as credit, have the associate do the transaction or better yet... solve the need for the merchant to feel the need to verify the card...

I find it an almost daily occurrence that I ask "How can I use credit?" as for years, at least with my behavior the idea of using a debit card pin on an unknown device seems still in the advent of skimmers and other hacks to be a terribly insecure practice that just opens you up to more problems. Yet, maybe I'm in the minority, maybe I'm the only one that notices, that cares. It's possible, I don't sit in the feedback sessions, i don't have access to retailer data... yet my gut says that no retailer has ever asked a customer how well they enjoy their unique checkout process with a Target red logo or Home Depot orange... or if their customers care to notice those details either and would prefer a simpler, faster way to give the merchant money... 

  • Minimum Useful Product

    In scrum, the term "Minimum Viable Product" or MVP gets tossed around a lot. It's supposed to be a way of identifying the base set of features, and thus requirements needed to launch a product early, get feedback and iteratively improve it.


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Minimum Useful Product

In scrum, the term "Minimum Viable Product" or MVP gets tossed around a lot. It's supposed to be a way of identifying the base set of features, and thus requirements needed to launch a product early, get feedback and iteratively improve it. Read more