Thursday, September 8, 2016

How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket

By Christopher Mele

You dash into the supermarket for a few necessities. You figure it will be 10 minutes — tops — before you are done and on your way home.

Then you get to the checkout lanes and they are brimming with shoppers. Your plan for a quick exit begins to evaporate.

But all is not lost.

For anyone who has ever had to stand in line (or if you are a New Yorker, you stand on line) at a supermarket, retailer, bank or anywhere else, here are some tips from experts for picking the line that will move the fastest.

Get behind a shopper who has a full cart

That may seem counterintuitive, but data tell a different story, said Dan Meyer, a former high school math teacher who is the chief academic officer at Desmos, where he explores the future of math, technology and learning.

“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. Richard Larson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who is considered the foremost expert on queues, estimated that Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in lines.

Go left for faster service

Robert Samuel, founder of Same Ole Line Dudes, a New York-based service that will stand in line for you, said in an email that most people are right-handed and tend to veer to the right.

Look for female cashiers

“This may seem sexist, but I prefer female cashiers,” Mr. Samuel wrote. “In my experience they seem to be the most expedient at register transactions and processing.”

A. J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., suggested checking to see if a cashier was talkative and commenting on every item being scanned. If so, avoid this line “unless there is no one in that line, in which case, just deal with the chatty cashier,” she said in an email.

Study the customers ahead and what they are buying

It is not just the number of people ahead of you, but their age and what they are buying that can make a difference, Professor Marsden said. Older people will take a bit longer because they can have difficulties that delay the checkout process, such as not understanding how a debit card works, she said.

Also consider the number of different items they are buying, Professor Larson said. Six bottles of the same soda will go faster than six totally different items, some of which cannot be scanned, such as vegetables, he said.

Read the rest here.


  1. This situation always reminds me of these alternative lyrics. The protagonist almost abides by the NAP.

    “That’s As Close As I’ll Get to Sluggin’ You”
    (sung to the tune of “That’s As Close As I’ll Get to Loving You”)

    Standin’ in the checkout line together
    Twelve items, cash only’s on the sign
    You had 30 and wanted to write check
    Idiot, you’re in the wrong line

    My groceries are startin’ to get heavy
    A twelve pack, sack of flour and a steak
    People like you, they make me violent
    It’s your face I wanna break.

    That’s as close as I’ll get to sluggin’ you
    Even though there’s nothing else I’d rather do
    I can scream
    I can mope
    Make a fist
    Grab your throat
    That’s as close as I’ll get to......sluggin’ you

  2. Avoid young white cashiers. They're lazy and slow. They come to work to hang out and chit chat.

  3. You could also use the self-checkout. Another smart move at Walmart is to use the various departments to checkout such as the electronics department.

  4. I always have trouble with the self checkout. The slightest problem with anything - such as an item not scanning correctly - wipes out any time savings.