Building Common Sense into Software

Here’s a case of technology falling short of it’s intended goal. I stopped at a local gas station, SuperAmerica, to top off the tank. I’m not particularly attached to any one gas station brand, but SA gives me a free hot dog or every 10,000 gallons of gas I buy (or something) so I carry around their loyalty card.

However, on a recent trip, I encountered this new step at the gas pump:

SuperAmerica Demographic Collection

I didn’t feel like entering my zip code, so I quickly tapped in five zeros to keep things moving. Mind you, it’s below freezing out in the morning, so I’m in no mood to play along with their demographic questions.

But here was the response:

SuperAmerica Demographic Collection

Visit the cashier? Are you crazy? They must have detected that the zip I entered wasn’t valid, so now they want me to go inside the store to talk to a cashier about it. Why? So the casher can ask me for my zip code again?

I decided to forget it and left, which obviously cost SuperAmerica more than they would have gained from my participate in their mandatory cold-weather demographic survey.

Technology failed here because there is no way an executive with SuperAmerica, armed with a clipboard and pen, would mandate demographic data collection from customers. Yet that’s what their gas pumps are programmed to do.

I imagine the person programming this reached a point where they asked someone in marketing, “What should we do if someone enters an invalid zip?” And that person in marketing -who’s primary motivation was collecting a thorough data sample – thought the correct answer was, “Tell them to see the cashier.” Sorry, that’s not the right answer.

Update: Theory #2: As a friend pointed out by IM, this could be a new credit card security measure where zip codes are required for verification. If that’s the case, it’s obviously not clear to me from the screens displayed. And also makes little sense after inputting my loyalty card before my credit card. Is someone going to use their loyalty card followed by a stolen credit card?

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