Inconvenienced

Morrisons - GrrrrPretend you’re me.

You’re about to embark on a journey to the local supermarket – the Canterbury branch of Morrisons – for the components of a picnic lunch. If you like, pronounce ‘picnic’ as Yogi Bear would: “pic-a-nic”. Just get some salad, some sushi, a couple of drink yoghurts, and you’re golden.

Ready? Set?


You cycle to Morrisons because you’re an idiot who doesn’t care about your physical safety, and you laugh your way around the cars that try to park in spaces while you’re cycling across them. This is a good start.

On your way into the supermarket itself, you take a basket. For your convenience, baskets are placed in stacks. At the bottom of the stack there is a comedy basket – i.e. an immovable one – instead of a similarly shaped receptacle that is clearly not a basket, which would make it unambiguous whether or not there is a basket available – because that would be too easy.

As you continue into the shop, you might consider humming The Raiders March.

The metal batwing doors may – or may not – open automatically. To find out, you need to step towards them, shuffle backwards a bit, and step towards them again. Think of it as a Cèleigh. If the doors turn out to be automatic, you’ll probably walk through miming an opening action with your hand, giving the impression that you think you have Jedi powers. If the doors turn out to be manual, you’ll barge through with a combination of groin and basket, causing everyone who is feeling oranges to turn and look at you blankly.

Your route through the store will be a hellish zigzag orchestrated by the inaccurate signs that swing above the aisles. Let’s say you want to find some sushi. Should be with the other fish, right? Surely. Yon, there’s a massive counter of fresh fish! Next to it is a whole wall of pre-packed salmon, pilchards, and so on. So where is the sushi? About a quarter of a mile away, beyond the hateful metal batwing doors. Because that is the obvious place for sushi – next to the newspapers.

Paranoia begins to build. You wonder if the most commonly needed items are spaced the greatest distance apart. And you’ll be precisely correct – at least, you’ll think you’re correct. That’s what paranoia does.

Finally, you’ve found the ingredients of your meek picnic lunch. Now you’ve got a choice of about fifty cashiers or six ‘automated’ check-outs. Well, you only have about eight items, so it seems silly to queue with those people who are buying enough to overwinter at McMurdo Sound.

So you approach the automated check-outs.

Your first problem is that the checkouts are arranged in a square and can be joined from either the outward side of the shop or the inward side. This means that two rival, seething queues have developed. The phrase ‘I’m sorry, but there’s a queue’ is repeated with increasing vehemence. Baskets are rattled in threat.

While queueing, you notice that one of the six automated cashiers is broken. It’s never the same one. Perhaps the machine is on a break but lacks the physical capacity to go and have a cigarette by the wheelie bins with all the other staff. The ‘break time’ machine will show a Windows dialogue box with only one option. That option will be something like ‘Just accept it’.

You try to remain jolly as the people ahead of you get increasingly confused and frustrated by the way the automated cashiers don’t work. It soon turns out that Morrisons is using the word ‘automated’ in the sense that means ‘you do it’. Groans and sighs can be used to attract the one staff member tasked with loitering nearby. Wordlessly, she applies the same treatment to every ailment: she puts her key in the machine, gives it a savage twist, and resumes her nail biting over by the cigarettes, one heel resting on a comedy basket.

You think it’s over when you reach the automated cashier. It is not. The sign above says ’15 items or less’. It quickly becomes clear, however, that unless these items are TicTacs, you have nowhere to put your items on the specially provided, uniquely small ‘inbox’ platform. You’ll need to put your basket on the floor and pretend you’re in the gym, doing a stand-crouch rep for each of your items.

Stupidly, you care about the environment and you’ve brought a canvas bag to use instead of the plastic ones provided. Talk about foolishness – for when you put the bag on the ‘outbox’ platform, the computer bleats ‘You haven’t scanned it! Alert! He hasn’t scanned it!’ and you realise that the bloody thing works by weight. It thinks that you’ve stolen the TicTacs. Still, you grunt and sigh and the wordless member of staff comes over and assaults the machine with her key and the machine stops bleating.

All that’s left to do is scan your items. Impishly, the surface of the outbox is covered by a wadge of Morissons plastic bags, which cannot be removed because they’re skewered to a metal frame. It turns out that a surface comprising layered plastic bags is second only to spherical Buckminsterfullerene in its frictionless properties. So anything you put on it – like, I don’t know, say, your bloody shopping – slides around like an air hockey puck, only every edge is the goal.

That’s OK. You cope with it. You half lie across the pile and try to maintain this posture as you do another rep in the Morrisons gym, scanning your next item using your foot. But you can’t seem to get the barcode to scan. Hmm, you think. Why not? You scan the item about sixty, seventy times before you realise that the computer is not happy – has issues with, is uncomfortable about – the fluctuating weight of the teetering pile of shopping in the outbox. Instead of communicating using that crazy, old-fashioned thing we call an error message – ‘Hey, bucko, quit lying on the frickin’ outbox’ or something similar – it just does nothing and pretends not to read the next item.

You relax. Of course! You remember that Morrisons is using the word ‘automated’ to mean ‘you do it’. Everything is fine. After all, the idea of automated cashiers has only been around for about thirty years, and it makes sense that, in 2009, they should still be this piss poor.

You go home and weep over your sun-dried tomatoes and curse the very day you decided on a pic-a-nic lunch.

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

8 thoughts on “Inconvenienced”

  1. Hurrah!! I love it! You actually made me laugh about something to do with Morrissons!!!

  2. It will be a few weeks until I can laugh about the whole, sorry episode. But – you know – one day at a time…

  3. Nice. I do near-daily battle with the automated checkouts at the Kensington Sainsbury’s. The thing to realise is that they are machines – and they can be outsmarted. (I once heard Disney’s head Imagineer, in a talk on AI, proclaim that ‘we have a word for a little bit of intelligence – it’s called “stupidity”‘.)

    There are a lot of little tricks, but I’ll share just this one: find the heaviest item in your shopping (for me that’s always a 2kg bag of ice); get it, and your cloth shopping bag, in hand; scan the item, drop it in the bag, and bang both on the platform. Generally, the additional weight of the bag will be inside the programmed tolerances for something heavy (like a bag of ice). For good measure, make sure you’ve got your next heaviest item to hand and ready to go – scan and bung this in quickly and, with the Sainsbury’s machines at any rate, they don’t have time to consider carefully the weight differentials and conclude that you are a thief. After that, you’ve won.

    This may sound like a lot of work, and it is. But it beats having each and every of my food items handled by a guy who is also wiping his nose with the inside of his hand every 15 seconds. And who won’t accept payment for the groceries I simply want to buy without first completing a lengthy interview about rewards points programs and cards therefor and whether or not I’m collecting school vouchers. (Do I LOOK like I’m collecting school vouchers?)

    As we have it in my country: “You pays your money and you takes your choice.”

    Oh – it also pays to develop a friendly relationship with the staff members who loiter nearby. Eventually, of course, you will need a key turn.

    Forward to McMurdo,
    Michael

  4. Excellent tip about the heavy item and the bag, Michael – if only there was somewhere to put the bloody bag to start with. Maybe I can do something involving magnets…

  5. Ian, that was hilarious. Thank you.

    I think you meant “cèilidh” though.

    My tips: all pro-shoppers know the sushi is with the “wraps” which is with the takeaway sandwiches which is often near the newspapers and fags. Also, I think your comments about how supermarkets are layed out in certain precise ways to influence shoppers habits is actually (sadly) true. I vaguely remember some documentary about it (or maybe just some internet article….)

    Try the Imperial March instead of the Raiders one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL5ksq3iF8w) especially at the automagic checkout.

    I actually quite like the automagic checkouts now I have sussed them out. Don’t you dare put anything on the out slot before you place your items. I usually take “bags for life” and dump them unceremoniously on the floor beside me until using them as described by Michael Stephen Fuchs above. I was chastised by the loiterer staff member for making a mess once though and told to carry them or put them in the “in tray”. I hate having to have my booze purchase validated by some spotty teenager though. Couldn’t we have a camera recognition system that looks at the grey hairs, the lines on your face and look of weariness in your eyes? Maybe Microsoft’s Project Natal could help.

    Do you think that enjoying use of the automagic checkouts is a sign of OCD?

  6. You need to use their plastic bag post scanning but once finished decant your items into your canvas bag and leave the plastic bag in situ

  7. @by_tor:

    Aha, the Imperial March – that might be more fitting. (Though recently I’ve been humming the electrosynth-orchestral theme to Dune.)

    In my defence, Marks and Spencer don’t put their sushi in the same place as the newspapers, though I am slowly growing accustomed to Morrison’s habits.

    I love the idea of a camera counting grey hairs, just so we can have the kids dressing up with wigs and flat caps when they want to buy beer…

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