It might seem counterintuitive, but standing behind the shopper with the full cart at the shorter line will probably get you out of the grocery store faster than lining up behind a line with more people but fewer items. Here's why. Photo by frankieleon.
The New York Times explains, with the help of Dan Meyer, Chief Academic Officer at Desmos, why even one person with a full cart would be better than two or three people with fewer items:
"Every person requires a fixed amount of time to say hello, pay, say goodbye and clear out of the lane," he said in an email. His research found all of that takes an average of 41 seconds per person and items to be rung up take about three seconds each.
That means getting in line with numerous people who have fewer things can be a poor choice.
Think of it this way: One person with 100 items to be rung up will take an average of almost six minutes to process. If you get in a line with four people who each have 20 items, it will take an average of nearly seven minutes.
Those minutes add up.
In short, the time it takes for a cashier to greet and process transactions adds up, and if you get behind too many people with small orders, it can wind up adding up to more time than the person with one order and more items. There's a vanishing point here of course - standing behind one person with a huge cart full will take longer to physically handle every item than maybe one or two people with two items each, so use your judgement.
The full Times piece has more suggestions for finding the fastest line at the link below, including looking for lines that lead to multiple checkouts, which essentially cuts the waiting time for a line the same length (presumably) as the other lines; studying what the other customers in line have in their baskets; and, of course, keeping your head in the game and not changing lines every time another one looks shorter. Hit the link below for more.
How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket [The New York Times]
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