Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

Copywriting Critique: Microcopy at a Self-Checkout Kiosk

Even supermarket checkout areas present an opportunity to examine the impact copywriting has on customers. Take, for example, an experience I continue to have with the self-checkout interface at my local grocery store.

When you step up to the self-checkout kiosk, you are greeted with this screen:

What does "Forgot Club Card?" mean, specifically? And are there other reasons someone might use this button?

Here's where well thought-out microcopy has a chance to make a difference in the customer's experience. (Microcopy, in this case, refers to the words or phrases that makeup the different elements in the user interface.) 

When I first approached the kiosk (when it was new, lo those many ages ago), I was confused. I was looking for an obvious place to enter my club card number. Yet, there wasn't one.

The closest option I saw for entering my club card number was the button labelled "Forgot Club Card?", but what was that actually asking? There were two possibilities:

1) "Did you forget to BRING your club card?"

2) "Did you forget to ENTER your club card?"

Maybe that isn't a huge difference, but still, the real meaning of the question wasn't clear. And neither of these applied to me anyway. I didn't forget to bring it -- I left it intentionally. I didn't forget to enter it, either -- I was always planning to enter it at some point, as soon as I saw a clear option for doing that. Except there wasn't one.

There were no clear options for taking the action I wanted to take. I now know that I have to use the "Forgot Club Card" button to enter my information. Even now, I feel a pang of frustration over that lack of clarity in the process. How many other people have had (or are having) the same experience Surely I'm not the only one. 

That's the thing about copy in any user experience: Those snippets of language, brief though they may be, must be so clear, so intuitive, that the user doesn't have to stop, even more a micro-second, to think about the meaning.

Even if all they're doing is buying a loaf of bread.

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