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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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2 Comments

I completely agree with this. Plus the thingy at WalMart where the numbers light up and an intercom tells me which number to walk towards is just plain fun. It adds to the shopping experience. Also, as a smoker of an obscure brand of menthol that most places don’t carry… How Dare You!

Posted by Andrew Bailey on 25 August 2012 @ 1pm

Seriously, it’s my number one pet peeve. I don’t know if I blame the smokers or the system. Surely there could be a separate cigarette counter? Or the cigarettes could be somewhere CLOSE to the cashiers?

Posted by Andrew on 25 August 2012 @ 6pm

No more than once a week, promise.


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