Design Crimes: Credit/Debit Card Checkout machines

So I thought I would piggyback on Yo with his design crimes post. I have a bit of a bone to pick with whoever designed these damn things.

I will first start by giving the process of the way it was to buy something by credit card ten years ago. Back then I would walk into the grocery store, pick up my 15 items or less, walk to the register, the clerk would ring up my groceries, I would hand him my card, and then he would give me a receipt that I would sign and I would be on my way.

Now… Let’s see how I have to do it now. I still walk into the grocery store and pick out my items, but now when I go to the register after the clerk is finished ringing up my groceries and I try to hand him my card, he looks at me like I have lost my mind and asks me if it is credit or debit and points to this FABULOUS machine. After I tell him it is credit I still have to press a button that reads credit, swipe my card, wait for him to hit a button on the register, and then sign my receipt. It gets even better if you have a debit card because the casher asks you if you want cash back, which I never do, I then pick debit on the machine, tell it no cash back, tell it that my amount is okay, and then finally I get my merchandise. Not only are there extra steps, but most of the time the buttons are all confusing and it generally does not make sense.

Seriously, who design these interfaces? There has to be a better way to do this. What took me a few seconds because the casher did it for me not takes me twice as long because there are double the steps. Just thought I would put this up here and see what everyone else thought.

On a lot of the machines I use, when you swipe a check card, you have to press “Cancel” at the PIN input screen to indicate that you want it processed using a signature instead. That makes a lot of intuitive sense.

Also something about my wallet demagnetizes my cards within about 3 weeks of receiving them, so I also get to sit through the clerk punching in my number by hand (usually at least twice because they mistype it), and shooting me dirty looks the whole time. Yet the ATM and gas pump machines read these demagnetized cards just fine, so the POS terminals must all use crappy strip readers.

Yeah, the whole system sucks.

I hate those things! But I love using my Visa CheckCard! (thanks advertising!)

In Minnesota there’s some law where you can’t use a debit card at most stores. So we get to add the additional step of having the cashier walk us through the fact that we don’t need to enter a PIN, which is just awesome. (This usually happens at Home Depot by the way) Why wouldn’t they simply write the software so you can only do credit?? WHY!?!?!

That is a good one… those are horrible. Eventually I think you will be able to just use your phone.

I was at the apple store the other day and I love how you can check out with any associate, anywhere in the store. Pretty cool.

I have a credit card that has some kind of RFID tag in it that they call “pay pass”. In stores, they sometimes have a little antenna at the register and I just need to swing my wallet over it to scan my card. Then, there is no need to sign. Kinda weird and I don’t understand the security behind it…

What I like the most is that in winter, I don’t need to struggle to get my card out to pay at the pump getting gas. I can just wave my wallet over the pump. Very nice.

Anyone else have experience with something like this?

Yes! I had a card that had it and I disabled it by smashing it with a hammer after a friend showed me how he stole my account info with some hacked up diy rfid snooping device he had. It was pretty crazy he basically just had it be within couple of inches of my wallet (ie. standing behind me on the train) and in a couple of minutes he had everything he needed.

If you’re a fan of mythbuster’s you’ll be saddened to know that one of their episodes was going to expose this huge security flaw but the episode was canned due to advertising pressures from the credit card companies

Also I’ve run into issues with having multiple RFID cards, the first time I carried the card with me it was interfering with the Chicago bus pass card I was carrying and I had to take it out of my wallet and re-swipe.

Argh. These god forsaken things, where to begin.

  1. Chip vs strip: Make it go in the same frigging slot!

  2. Which way the strip should face: if you can’t figure out how to make intuitive hardware, at least make more visible and comprehensible graphics!

  3. PIN: do I really need to start all over if I miss 1 digit?! By “all over” I mean having the clerk type a novel on his register and swipe the card again.

  4. UI: the STOP button seems to get things done. I swear if it was a computer it would be BACKSPACE, ESC and ENTER at the same time. How’s that for intuitive?

  5. Not accepted cards: some places don’t take stuff like AMEX for example. Is it really necessary to connect to the database or whatever happens there and print out a receipt just to let the cashier know that the store in fact doesn’t take AMEX and have him tell me that? Come to think of it, all information the screen seem to provide is the asterisks when you type your pin.

  6. The receipts: so little relevant info, way harder to comprehend than needed.

    Having said that, I can live will all that. What needs to be designed is a way to pay with card in bars. That experience right now takes half the night out, plus everybody hates you for it.

there are so many things wrong with these devices.

My main dislike is different devices require different card orientation for swiping magnetic stripe but all have poor or no indication of card swipe orientation. And I dislike the hideous metal arms or wands, often shaky or loose, they are often mounted on.

On an optimistic note, I know people at company that designs and manufactures these card swipers. No success, but I’ve made several polite suggestions over the years.

The devices suck, but look at the system they’re based on, that’s what needs a re-design.

It’s the process of the whole thing that bothers me. I should have to answer 20 question, give up my first born child, and watch some kid behind the counter type away on his sell phone before paying for my merchandise. My other question is if there is no need for a clerk anymore why do we still have them. They no longer take money because most pay with a some sort of a card now, They don’t bag my groceries, and I do all the work when paying. Why not make everything self checkout…oh because they are a design crime as well!!!

I didn’t realize that was the law, I though hd was just being wierd. MN has some wierd laws.

Another irritating is they refuse to touch the card, as if it was going to infect them with some disease, and then once you put it away, they demand to see your signature on it.

It has something to do with the banking regulations here I think.

Speaking of auto-pay kiosks. I use these whenever possible, but usually there is some idiot who can’t figure it out in front of me (usually someone like my Mom… sorry Mom).

I work part time at a grocery store and I see first hand how bad these machines can be. There are far to many questions to answer and I often have to prompt customers to continue. One of the biggest issue I have noticed is that there is absolutely no standardization from store to store, there are even different styles and UI’s from each manufacturer.

As for self check out, there ok, if you know what your doing. I have seen research though that shows that an average cashier can checkout customers much faster. There seems to be some psychological trait that makes people steer clear of a line though. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seem customers wander around the store for an hour or more and then get all agitated that they have to stand in line for 2 minutes.

On a side note Visa was way off when they claimed a Debit card was fast, Cash is king and is always the fastest.

arrrgggh, I hate these things.
They make no sense from a design point of view, you can tell no usability expert was ever brought in to make sure things made sense.

When paying on some of them you slide your card by the screen and then enter your PIN on the pad further over (even though there is a card reader on there too). Others have you slide your card on the pad, getting charge is like trying to figure out a maze, where from one of these orifices will my money magically appear.

It’s little wonder people who aren’t tech savvy take so damn long using these, it shouldn’t be so fragmented and complicated.

Gas station pay pumps are the same. You are prompted on the screen for info then when you pay you don’t use the screen, you use the keypad below. Can’t they just have a keypad come up on the screen, is it that hard ???

It’s all over the place. There is no reason they should be like this if someone just took a bit of time to figure out the way people want to use them. It should be very clear where the user interacts with this type of machine, make everything else fade into the background. Don’t have a multitude of buttons that people never use, put those somewhere else, it’s just added confusion.

Does NCR even have designers or are they all engineers ?

Funny someone brought this up as it’d a past time of mine to complain about these things to my wife.

You guys ever see this commercial? Its about better checkout design by removing the checkout itself

Its hard to believe that a company as large as IBM and with as much pull in the POS and services industry can’t get this kind of innovation to market. There must be some major obstacles. At lease one roadblock was RFID prices getting below $.05, but that commecial was a while ago…
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the whole matching of the signature part seems completely ridiculous too… I think most people could fake a signature to match something on the back of the card pretty easily, if the cashier even truly looks at it.

In the case of someone stealing your card, Somehow I doubt that the signature record would even be that useful…

My all time favorite here…

I’ll leave the place nameless, but lets just say it is the BEST place to BUY electronics. You go through everything already mentioned, but this time- you actually have to HAND THE CARD (that you needed to swipe in the swipper by yourself), to the clerk to complete the transaction by entering some info off the back.

Yes- you have to not hand the card to ring up, but to ring out you the clerk still NEEDS the card.

Thanks dude- this has had me rolling for minutes.

Now that is what i am talking about. somehow I think they would still figure out a way to screw it up in the grocery store by me.

it seems like such simple design exercises too - even little thins aren’t explored. for example, a lot of EFTPOS systems have options for SAV, (savings) CHQ (cheque) and CRE(credit), for which account is debited from your card. not many people use CHQ, but the numbers on the other 2 are often completely worn off. how hard is it to emboss letters on the keypad or colour code or something.


in all seriousness, there is so much room for designers to work the magic here it’s not funny.

“Press Cancel for Credit” - this make no sense.

I do like not signing for things under $25

At a local grocery store they recently updated all of the card readers. Unfortunately they must have selected a low budget model because they ALL broke and are now fastened to the counter with rubber bands.