Research Proves Switching To The Shorter Line Almost Always Backfires

Research Proves Switching To The Shorter Line Almost Always Backfires

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When you’re in a grocery line that seems to be going nowhere, you shouldn’t make the switch to another queue. Unless that cashier just opened up next to you with no waiting, researchers say skipping from one line to another is actually counterproductive.

Researchers at Harvard Business School recently discovered that when someone finds themselves at the end of a line they will be more inclined to make decisions that can backfire. The issue comes from no one wanting to be “last,” reports The Guardian.

If you’re in a line with no one behind you then you’re apparently four times as likely to decide that a line next to you might be a better bet and jump ship. However, by in large that chance actually equated to people waiting longer to be served than they would have if they had just stayed put.

The idea is interesting because the length of time you wait in line really has absolutely nothing to do with the number of people waiting behind you, but it still effects your perception of the situation.

When you have no one else behind you and see another line moving faster you might decide to make a switch without taking all the other factors into consideration. For instance, that one beside you might have moved quickly for a second because a woman only had three items, but the next customer has 100 items and 75 coupons, you’re not going anywhere soon.

Yes, sometimes it might work in your favour, but the odds are it won’t and when you have people behind you you’re much less likely to make the change.

Unless that golden ticket of a person-free line opens up, you’re almost always better off staying in the first line you’ve chosen. While you might be at the back in the beginning, eventually some other poor soul will queue up behind you.


  • Apu from the Simpsons pointed it out first and pointed it out right. For instance, the Supermarket. If the line has only one or two mothers or fathers with a trolley and kids, avoid like the plague. Go for the longer line with what looks like single or younger people with only a few items in their arms, this will fly by in comparison. I’ve lived by this and it’s worked almost every single time, from supermarkets, to gaming stores to clothing stores.

    • Totally – you gotta make the right, smart choice.

      But supermarkets now? Praise be to self serve.

      • Self serve is a glorious thing. If you ever see someone in self serve, that Unicorn who goes the “Aldi” way, who scans their stuff and dumps it straight into the trolley without bagging? Jump right behind them if possible, they’re a great timesaver.

  • I read something a few years back that in crowds, always hug the wall/barrier. It seemed that people with only one “side” to watch move quicker, seems to work for me.
    It’s the same for idiots that keep changing lanes on the freeway. Not only do they not get anywhere quicker, it makes them look like tossers and the effect they have on traffic behind them just adds to congestion further back.

    • Nothing is more satisfying than having someone switch lanes to get ahead, Only for you to then pass them anyway leaving them behind. Soo gooood.

  • My tip, never choose the line I’m in. It seems I am perpetually in the slowest line of all available.

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