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?

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.

Author: 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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