A Digital Fail in Jersey

Joe Piscopo as Paulie Herman from Jersey annoying an innocent

Picture this if you can. After waking up in Scotland, I get to the Edinburgh airport with my brother for our flight home. My brother is using a cane as he is still recovering from breaking his back in January and we’ve walked a LOT the past few days. After flying across the ocean to Newark we get through customs and are screened by the TSA. All we want to do is grab a beer and a snack while we waited the last hour and a half for our flight home.

Well, Newark had other ideas.

Bad User Interface

In Terminal C, they have implemented an electronic ordering system. There is an iPad at every seat and you can order, pay, and start a tab as soon as you make-up your mind. When I found two empty seats at the Beer Garden right next to our gate, I thought life was good.

Using an iPad to order is a great idea. They allow the customer to order immediately from any food vendor on that concourse. While waiting you can use them to browse the Internet, you can create a secure running tab, and you can pay as soon as you are ready.

Then came the execution in the user interface (UI). This is where things started going poorly.

  • Whenever you try and do anything, it asks about your flight so it can track its status for you. Nice but if you just want to quickly order a beer, you have to wait for the camera to activate as part of the app. Only then can you proceed. After trying to skip this for the fifth time, you become annoyed.
  • The menu layout makes no sense. The option to switch between menu categories is hidden in the upper left in yellow text on a beige background. It never remembers the section you were in last, forcing you to start over every time.
  • The beer list is not organized. It is apparently random. It isn’t by brewer, beer name, price, or style. You have to scroll down several times to see the whole list. Finding any beer is a pain.
  • The ability to open a bar tab was nice. However it auto-closed on me when I tried to open it up at one point. The tab didn’t even show up in the previous transaction list on the iPad. The transaction went through but I didn’t get to set the tip or any other perk like getting my receipt.

That’s all pretty bad. If I can get beer quickly and not have to go through a long process to pay my bill, I’ll forgive a lot. Unfortunately the rest of the experience was even worse.

Bad User Experience

This is a perfect example of what is UI versus user experience (UX). The UI issues above contributed to a bad overall UX. The UX didn’t stop at the app though. It got even worse when it came to execution of the orders.

  • I ordered but had trouble paying. Turns out that my iPad was swapped with another one so I had to swipe my credit card elsewhere. That is understandable but then…
  • They brought the wrong beer. It was a Founders All-Day IPA. If you know me, you know I’d never order an IPA. I may have hit the wrong button, but I wasn’t going to drink that beer. The waitress told me that I should just drink the beer she brought because the system says I ordered. After some back-and-forth, she agreed to bring the beer I wanted.
  • Apparently they were out of what I wanted, a Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale. I had never had it tasted and the brewer and I shared a name, even if they spell it wrong. I then had to open up the menu, push through the flight tracker, and pick another beer.
  • I picked a Flying Fish Red Fish which is a red ale. When they were out of that, they brought me a Flying Fish Hopfish IPA without checking with me. This is also after I mentioned to her when she brought me the previous IPA that I hate IPAs. Back to the menu.
  • Why is the default drink section for the menu Wine when I’m sitting at the beer garden? EVERY time? As you can see, this can be quite annoying as I still didn’t have a beer.
  • A Wolters PilsenerFinally, my brother showed up. He didn’t have TSA Pre-Check so he really needed a beer. He ordered a Lagunitas IPA. Sure enough, they were out of that beer.
  • In the next attempt we both finally got a beer. I just picked their beer-of-the-day figuring that they could be out of that one.
  • We also ordered food which was not easy to do in the iPad menu. A decision that would normally take us a couple of minutes took 5-10 minutes because we had to navigate the crazy app.

How is the experience broken? So many ways.

  • The wait staff had no idea what they had to offer. They had to go find out for every drink.
  • It would take us a while to get back to the beer list after every order misfire. The waitress would either have to wait for a long period for us to figure out a replacement or leave while we had to figure it out.
  • There was no way to cancel what was in our order and try again. All corrections had to be ordered verbally in a place where waitresses aren’t trained to take orders.
  • The menu was not linked to inventory so when they ran out of something, it was there for the ordering.

As a result it took me 30 minutes to get my first beer. The new system clearly didn’t speed anything up. We didn’t order a second beer. We really wanted a second one but we just had zero faith that we could get it and drink it before we boarded.

So much for a relaxed hour and a half layover.

Bad Digital Transformation

Joe Piscopo as Paulie Herman in a dinerThere are often discussions about whether or not you should focus on the the user facing component of the UX or get the backend systems aligned first. Newark went with the innovative approach of messing up the total UX by making the UI painful and not linking any of their backend components or human staff together. Newark has a system that works against a set of requirements but hurts to live through.

The airport concessions are clearly trying to digitally transform themselves to more efficiently serve flyers and to offer a broader menu to everyone. It should be a win-win proposition. The reality is that execution is so bad that even the standard New Jersey jokes are not enough.

Oh, are you from Jersey? What exit? Can you drive to an airport besides Newark? If so, do it.

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