How many bags do you think that is?

I’ve noticed that there’s a fascinating little exchange at the end of the Ocado process. After you’ve received all your shopping, the delivery driver will ask ‘have you got any bags to return?’. It’s the bag recycle scheme they’ve been doing for a few years, where they give you 5p for every bag you give them back. After you hand them the pile, they ask ‘how bags do you think that is?’. You then say a number – you might know, or like us you might guess.

‘About 12?’ I offered today. “Ok, I’ll call it 20” said the driver, and off they went.

And it’s not just one or two drivers in particular that rounds up the number in this manner, but all of them. It’s so consistent, in fact, that today I started to wonder if it was designed as an exchange, as part of the service.

Because it’s such a simple, generous idea, to leave a customer at the end of the interaction feeling like the representative in the company has just given them something back.

It’s not really about the amount, the 40p extra refund. It’s the gesture that makes it work. And the fact that it’s a gesture from a person, rather than a discount figure that appears on an app, powered by an unseen algorithm. In comparison to other service companies who send people to your door, that projection of autonomy in the job is interesting.

During Natalie Kane’s presentation on the IED Innovation and Future Thinking course last month (yes, I will write something up, promise), she showed the class this, the Amazon warehouse picker wearable. It’s the antithesis of autonomy in a job – it is telling you what, where, when, and how, and your only job is simply to comply.

What struck me as the class was discussing it was that, yes, this is a wearable, but not in the way that you think. It’s not a person wearing a device, it’s an algorithm wearing a person.

Yet if the Ocado ‘how many bags?’ exchange is ‘designed’ and instructional in some way, then it’s merely just the allusion of autonomy. Is this worse in some ways?