How To Choose The Fastest Line At The Market

One of the more frustrating parts of grocery shopping is waiting in line, and determining which line will get you through the quickest somehow becomes a big deal. Blogger and math teacher Dan Meyer drops a little science on this common dilemma.

Photo by specialkrb.

When choosing which line will be the fastest, it might surprise you to learn that the "express" lane may not always be the best choice. Meyer took a scientific look at supermarket checkout times and came to the conclusion that the number of people in line adds more to the wait time than the number of items each person has in their cart.

[W] hen you add one person to the line, you're adding 48 extra seconds to the line length (that's "tender time" added to "other time") without even considering the items in her cart. Meanwhile, an extra item only costs you an extra 2.8 seconds. Therefore, you'd rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!

Of course, other variables, both known (dedicated bagger) and unknown (payment type, coupons, cigarettes) affect on the speed of the line, but this is a good rule of thumb to use as a baseline. To save time and money before you get to the checkout, try shopping every other week and make an organised list before you go shopping.

If you've got your own tricks for getting through the checkout lane in a hurry, let us know in the comments.

What I Would Do With This: Groceries [dy/dan via True/Slant]


    The other variable is the number of checkouts available to the express lane, which CAN make it much more attractive.

    I work in a supermarket and I can tell you there is no science to choosing a line. Even if there is only one person ahead of you, something could go wrong like they want cigarettes or a price check, or their bank card will decline, or they'll want to pay by cheque.
    And even if there is nobody in front of you, and you walk right up to the cashier, there's still a chance of printer error, or your own bank card error.
    I can also say that the customers who are more likely to go agro and start whinging about the queue are also the ones who need those "special" services like cigarettes/price checks etc..
    The best option is to go through express and hope that the queuing system is designed so there is one queue for multiple registers, like in a bank.
    If you have a trolley, then you just have to hope for the best.

    Having been a checkout operator myself, how about things like new (slow) checkout person, non-scanning items, items scanned at wrong price and therefore discounts need to be applied. Oh and how about running out of change? The list goes on... science can't help EVERYTHING...

    Gosh, Daniel,soundslike a mirror of what you don't like about the job.
    Anyhow, another thing I learnt working as a floorwalker was that when you look at a queue and see 6 people, this may be a couple and a family of four - two sales not six!

    Apu: Mrs. Simpson, the express line is the fastest line not always. That old man up front, he is starved for attention. He will talk the cashier's head off.

    Abe: Ah, there's an interesting story behind this nickel. In 1957, I remember it was, I got up in the morning and made myself a piece of toast. I set the toaster to three -- medium brown.

    Apu: Let's go to... that line.

    Marge: But that's the longest.

    Apu: Yes, but look: all pathetic single men. Only cash, no chitchat.

    This is why I use the self-service checkouts.
    Don't be afraid to use them, once you're used to it it's faster than letting someone else process the sale for you... and hardly anyone ever uses them since most people rely on the staff to sort that crap out.

    The advantage of the express lane, if there's at least 2 cashiers working, is that even if one of them has to do a cigarette sale/failed card/other slow task, there is another person still moving customers through.

    If the express line has multiple cashiers serving it then it adds an element of redundancy to the system - one attention starved grandpa won't lock the entire line.

    express lanes are quicker than regular lanes if the ratio of checkers:customers is higher than the fullness quotient of the shopping cart/trolley next in line at the checkout...

    self-service is only faster if you're not buying anything reduced, not paying with a signature=only credit card, and you don't have a large amount of stuff to buy -- an experienced checker will scan and bag your groceries quicker than you ever will, even if they put the juice/milk/cans on top of the baked goods/soft fruit every time!

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