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Price Chopper’s RoboDeli is great idea, but flawed

I just did some Sunday shopping at a local Price Chopper supermarket.  It was pretty busy and there was a long line at the deli counter.  With in the last few months, they implemented a computerized ticket system.  Instead of grabbing a ticket and waiting for a number to be called, you pushed a button on a touch screen and a numbered ticket was printed out for you.  On a large TV screen above the deli, the ticket numbers currently being served and tickets to be served were listed, along with their approximate wait times.

Knowing the wait time is handy, it gives you a better idea of how long you will be waiting before you be served..  They also have a touch screen set up to allow you to place your order and come back later to get it.  Since the wait time was up to 20 minutes, I decided to give the “RoboDeli” a shot.

The RoboDeli worked, but it was an exercise in frustration to use.  The touch screen was the main culprit, but the software design had a few flaws too.  The touch screen was just bad.  It was very difficult for it to register a button press and when it did pickup a button press, it would often get the wrong button.

I just wanted to get some ham.  While I was able to easily select “ham”, I had to scroll through several pages of items to get the one I wanted.  Those buttons were large and while it took a while to get it to read my finger press, it got the right selection.

Next came the weight and thickness.  Those buttons were smaller and it took much longer to get the right selection to register.  I then added the ham to the order and went to complete the order.

It asked if I wanted to get a text message on my phone when the order was ready.  That’s a brilliant idea, but they really messed up on the implementation.  To enter in the phone number, you were presented with a numeric keypad on the screen, plus skip, completed, and clear buttons.

The number buttons were small and close together.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to remind you of a phone, but it only used a small portion of the display.  Every time I pressed the “5” key, it would register as “2”.  The really annoying part was that it had no concept of a backspace button.  The clear button would clear all of the numbers, forcing you to start from the beginning.

After several failed attempts, my 10 year old daughter took time off from texting all of her friends to take pity on me and enter the number in herself.  She had less luck than I did.  We finally gave up and pressed the skip key to send the order to the deli.

At that point, it went back to it’s home screen.  No order number or any other way of identifying my order.  When they processed my order, it would be placed in a cold case next to the deli.  It would have an order number on it, but you wouldn’t know what that order was.  You just have to remember what you ordered and grab the right one.  And also to remember to periodically check back to see if it was ready.  You also had to know where the pickup would be, that was not clearly identified.

It took about 4 minutes for me to place the order.  That’s a long to order a 1/2 lb of ham.  Of that time, 2.5 minutes were occupied with my failed attempt to enter in my phone number. It would take longer for 10 people to enter in their orders in total (without picking them up), than it would for 10 people to wait at the counter and actually get their order.

What they are trying to do is a great idea, they just dropped the ball on how they implemented it.  Something that is supposed to save you time should not take longer and annoy you in the process.  This is what they need to do to fix it:

  1. Display a large sign over the screen that would list the steps needed to place the order and where to pick up the order.  While you can display that information on the screen, this way it’s always available for the user.
  2. Get a more responsive and accurate touch screen.  This isn’t esoteric technology.  Your self serve checkout registers have much better accuracy and response on their touch screens.  You should be at least at that level of accuracy for the RoboDeli.
  3. Page Up and Page Down types of buttons are keyboard/mouse navigation tools.  With touch screens, you scroll through lists by dragging the list with your finger.  The system feels like it was designed to be used with a mouse, not a finger.  Find the person who designed this system and give him an iPad and show him how touch screen applications really work. 
  4. Use the entire screen for input.  A larger phone number pad would have been better.  It doesn’t cost anything extra to use more of the screen.
  5. Add a backspace key. Not being able to the delete just a single character is just mind boggling bad.
  6. Display the order number so the user can remember what order to pick up.
  7. Have an option to print the order ticket.  With the information of what the customer just ordered, you can suggest complimentary items to go with that order and provide coupons on the ticket itself.  “Buying a lot of cold cuts? Here’s a coupon for mustard.”  Every point of interaction with a customer is a chance to sell him something.  The store already has a machine that prints out coupons when you swipe your AdvantEdge card, so you already have the ability to do this.
  8. Have a mag strip reader to be able to read the AdvantEdge card (Price Chopper’s loyalty card) and be able to print the customer’s name on his order.  If you could add a mobile number to the AdvantEdge card account, that would be even easier for text notifications.