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Why don’t grocery stores use a single line-up?

Posted on 25 August 2012

Alex Stone in the New York Times has a fascinating piece on why waiting in line is torture. This part jumped out at me:

“Surveys show that many people will wait twice as long for fast food, provided the establishment uses a first-come-first-served, single-queue ordering system as opposed to a multi-queue setup. Anyone who’s ever had to choose a line at a grocery store knows how unfair multiple queues can seem; invariably, you wind up kicking yourself for not choosing the line next to you moving twice as fast.”

I despise the multi-line system. There are so many factors that can result in you waiting longer than someone who arrives after you: the speed of the cashier, the amount of change the person in front of you wants to use, and the one I despise most of all: being in the express lane behind someone who wants some rare brand of cigarettes that doesn’t exist which then requires a lengthy negotiation of a possible substitution and a two-and-half minute walk for the cashier to go get this item (I’m probably overestimating the additional wait-time but as the article says, it’s natural).

This multi-line system wouldn’t be a problem for me if there weren’t a glaringly obvious solution, which is the single-line, multiple check-out used at banks and Wal-Mart (say what you will, they got that right). Given that “in a system of multiple queues, customers almost always fixate on the line they’re losing to and rarely the one they’re beating” I have no idea why most grocery stores use a system that creates the most negative experience possible. And I never buy gum or tabloids to make it worth their time.

Filed under: misc

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