Poor User Experience isn’t limited to the web

I recently took a road trip and found myself needing fuel (like you do). So I had a great idea to stop and gas up…little did I know that it would turn out to be more difficult than I originally imagined.

I pulled into the Marathon service station in Elizabethtown, KY and proceeded to initiate a transaction at the pump. I inserted and removed my card and was asked whether I wanted to use credit or debit. There was a row of buttons on the left side of the LCD and on the right side, and the arrows that pointed to the left side of the LCD screen did not match up with the buttons. I had intended to select debit…I missed.

After that I was greeted with a screen that simply read “ZIP CODE”. I assumed that to mean enter my zip code, which I attempted to do – 3 times. The reason I had to do it 3 times was because the screen did not show the digits as I pressed them, rather it substituted stars. This was not a password, PIN or other such ‘protected’ information … it was my zip code! There was also no auditory feedback as the buttons were pressed.

After I was finally able to successfully enter my zip code, I was then instructed to lift the lever and begin pumping. The only problem with that is that there was no lever. And there were no large yellow buttons either. I finally found a small, black, membrane switch near each octane rating sticker that simply read ‘Select’. Grrr…

After I was finally able to pump my gas, the time came to get my receipt. This time I was ready for the little arrows to not line up with the buttons… But I didn’t see them! The reason was this time the screen was asking me to push the buttons on the right side of the LCD, where it had previously been the left side! I was utterly flummoxed at how no design methodology was apparent in any stage of my transaction.

Pumping gas and paying at the pump is a ubiquitous transaction nowadays. So how is it that this company got it completely wrong? Because it’s so ubiquitous! Everyone knows how to do it, so no one tries to design it well. If I had been from a different country, or a new driver, or an amnesia patient – I would probably still be standing at that pump. The entire transaction was filled with inadequate information, contradictions and misdirections. Something that should have been simple was instead made complicated.

I had originally wanted to go in and grab some snacks after pumping my gas, but after such a dismal point-of-sale experience at the pump, I no longer had the time or energy to venture inside.

Maybe I’m the only one who has ever had this problem, but it seems like simple things should be, I don’t know – simple?

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