Digital should be a choice…

Bananas - Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

We often forget that sometimes people don’t like innovation and innovation doesn’t automatically always mean better. Actually most of the time innovation for a lot of people is rarely better. Sometimes its worse than what was before, most of the time it’s just different.

Innovation is defined as new or different, but it isn’t defined as been better that was there was before.

I recently read an article on the BBC News website An experiment in shopping via app reveals consumers are not quite ready for till-free grocery buying about an experiment that the Sainsbury supermarket had been undertaking at one of their stores in London. It didn’t end well…

The branch of Sainsbury had removed all their tills and allowed shoppers to scan their goods with their phones and pay for them through the app. Removing the tills allowed them to have a wider range of goods on display.

The challenge was that a lot of people were going to to the help desk to pay for their goods as they didn’t want to, or couldn’t use the app. The result was long queues.

I suspect some people when they popped into to get some food and stuff didn’t realise that the only way to pay was though an app and assumed despite the posters that they could pay through a traditional checkout (or even one of the self-scan checkouts). When they couldn’t find one they went to the helpdesk. Not everyone wants to install an app either.

I think it also reflects that people like to have a choice. When we go “digital by default” we forget that this doesn’t mean “digital only” it means that the primary choice for people will be digital, but that other choices (analogue) should also be available.

This has implications for universities and colleges who are in the process of moving services to digital, whether that be self-service kiosks, chatbots, or using digital assistants like Alexa.

If 20% of the population don’t use the internet (as reported in this article) how is this reflected in the students who go to university? How many of them don’t use the internet, or have made the choice not to engage with internet services or apps. Some may not even have the devices required for access.

Then we need to be aware that not all of our potential users will want to use the internet, let alone use an app. They may not want to use a kiosk or ask Alexa.

Amazon Echo
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Digital by default means making the first option digital, but there needs to be a second option, one that may require the use of people to deliver the service.

I am also reminded of this blog post by Lawrie Phipps The Darker side of Digital. Lawrie describes some of the darker aspects of digital by default. In the BBC article I link to, it means people were annoyed when doing their shopping. Lawrie points out how moving a service to digital only can be harmful to people’s welfare and their physical or mental health.

He quotes from an UN report on poverty in the UK.

“One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.”

When creating digital services, we need to remember that we are trying to enhance and increase access. This also means that we shouldn’t be constraining or reducing access.

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