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(Lifehacker)   Math says you should avoid the express lane at the grocery store   (lifehacker.com) divider line 142
    More: Spiffy, waste of time, grocery stores, checkout lane  
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7310 clicks; posted to Geek » on 02 Jan 2013 at 10:12 PM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-01-02 11:02:37 PM
Math doesn't say you should avoid express lanes -- just that you shouldn't prefer them as much as most people do.
 
2013-01-02 11:03:03 PM

bionicjoe: fozziewazzi: BarkingUnicorn: I shop at 8 a.m. on Saturday, when the shelves are stocked and there are no lines.

I shop during the second or last week of the month to avoid the pay/welfare check grocery store rush that comes following the 15th and the 30th.

hahaha Poor people suck.
I just shop at Whole Foods. Nothing keeps away the riffraff like $4 eggs.


If you're that worried about "the riff-raff" you simply send your servants to do the shopping.
 
2013-01-02 11:05:52 PM
I prefer the self-checkout line - it hides the shame you feel when all you're buying is frozen pizza and toilet paper. And hand cream if it's a Saturday night.
 
2013-01-02 11:06:12 PM
20 x 5 = 60 math aside, this is a silly article. He only has one real data point (4:28 vs 4:56), and it supports the opposite conclusion he's making.
 
2013-01-02 11:06:13 PM

fozziewazzi: I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?


I'm not finding anything off the top of my head. Find a friend who's in the military, and ask to go to the Commissary with them.
 
2013-01-02 11:06:27 PM

W. T. Fark: TFA links to AFA about shoppers avoiding lane 13. Seriously? People do this? Wonder how they'll get through the year.


Seriously. 13 is one of my favorite numbers. I'll take that lane.

Around here the best way to ensure quick checkout is to avoid any lane with a young looking cashier. Almost everyone is buying alcohol so you want to avoid having to wait while the under 21 cashier has to get someone else to scan the booze.
 
2013-01-02 11:07:31 PM

utsagrad123: The Walmart by my house always has a one armed man working the speedy checkout line. That seemed cruel to me at first but he is much more efficient with that one arm that the rest of the cashiers are with two


I wonder how much ass the one legged greeter can kick at that store.
 
2013-01-02 11:08:46 PM

fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?


This is how they do it at Fry's, which is a big box electronics chain very much like Best Buy. Don't have a pic, but imagine a large row of cashiers with room for a single customer each; an empty row parallel to the cashier row that the customer uses to get to their cashier; and then a third parallel row where the line actually is.
 
xcv
2013-01-02 11:09:03 PM
 
2013-01-02 11:10:00 PM
I can usually handle grocery store traffic, but what really gets me is when I shop at Walgreens or CVS. Every single time I get in line, the person directly in front of me has a ton of coupons or, more than likely, wishes to argue with the checkout person about the price in the weekly circular vs. the price that was just rung up. Worst yet, is when the cashier has to process a rain-check for the customer who just has to have their brand of hairspray for $2.99. God that sucks, and it's every... single... time I happen to shop at one of those stores. I honestly don't know how they stay in business.
 
2013-01-02 11:10:08 PM
I hate to say it, but I usually pick the line with the cutest cashier.
 
2013-01-02 11:10:40 PM

Arkanaut: Math doesn't say you should avoid express lanes -- just that you shouldn't prefer them as much as most people do.


Thank you!. The article tries to make a point but doesn't do a good job proving it and subby stretched that even further out of whack.
 
2013-01-02 11:15:40 PM
This logic is more applicable in a place without express lanes, actually.

It's a matter of number of items ahead of you versus number of transactions. If two lanes have about the same number of items going through but one has more transactions then you join the lane with fewer transactions. That's because each item takes the same amount of time to scan, but payment is always a slow down.
 
2013-01-02 11:17:19 PM

had98c: W. T. Fark: TFA links to AFA about shoppers avoiding lane 13. Seriously? People do this? Wonder how they'll get through the year.

Seriously. 13 is one of my favorite numbers. I'll take that lane.

Around here the best way to ensure quick checkout is to avoid any lane with a young looking cashier. Almost everyone is buying alcohol so you want to avoid having to wait while the under 21 cashier has to get someone else to scan the booze.


This is true. I find that the older cashiers have been there longer and know there stuff. Young cashiers have really high turn-over and stop too often to ask for help.
 
2013-01-02 11:18:59 PM
I love self-checkout lanes. I can run my transaction with over $100 in groceries quicker than the guy who is using it for the first time and waits for all the prompts. Then again, I know that I can start scanning right away without selecting a language, and I don't have to wait for the vocal prompts to finish in order to go Checkout > Pay with Card > Complete transaction using pin pad. I've had some of my friends/family be amazed at the speed that I use these newfangled touch screens.
 
2013-01-02 11:19:44 PM
Typical evaluation of a real world scenario by a mathematician. Create a version of that scenario that makes your point and work backwards using math to prove you were right.
 
2013-01-02 11:21:32 PM

TommyDeuce: bionicjoe: fozziewazzi: BarkingUnicorn: I shop at 8 a.m. on Saturday, when the shelves are stocked and there are no lines.

I shop during the second or last week of the month to avoid the pay/welfare check grocery store rush that comes following the 15th and the 30th.

hahaha Poor people suck.
I just shop at Whole Foods. Nothing keeps away the riffraff like $4 eggs.

If you're that worried about "the riff-raff" you simply send your servants to do the shopping.


That's a lot of chaining/unchaining I have to do. Plus I like a day among the plebeians every once in awhile.
 
2013-01-02 11:21:55 PM

ODDwhun: Personally I like the self check out lane. As long as there are no little old ladies trying to use it ahead of me.

/It's not self check out if you need assistance for every item


The wife and I know the most common SKU numbers for fruits, vegetables, and bulk items. We never need help at the self check, and are ALWAYS faster than your average line.
 
2013-01-02 11:22:11 PM

zarberg: I hate to say it, but I usually pick the line with the cutest cashier.


Nothing to be ashamed of. You will wait patiently and be pleasant when you get your turn. Better than most customers, even if you are super creepy.
 
2013-01-02 11:23:02 PM

Fano: utsagrad123: The Walmart by my house always has a one armed man working the speedy checkout line. That seemed cruel to me at first but he is much more efficient with that one arm that the rest of the cashiers are with two

I wonder how much ass the one legged greeter can kick at that store.


He may just end up resorting to biting their legs off
 
2013-01-02 11:26:21 PM

skinink: I'm so happy Stop and Shop has the scan as you shop devices. I can buy $70 in groceries and spend five minutes or less actually checking out in line.


Stop and Shop/Giant really seems to be trying to do away with the human cashiers. I can't remember the last time I was in one of their stores (including the day before Thanksgiving) and seen more than three cashiers. Unfortunately it forces more people into the self-check out lines that have no business near any type of automated machine.
 
2013-01-02 11:27:57 PM
And they always seem to have the slowest and/or oldest cashier on the express lane as well.
 
2013-01-02 11:29:29 PM

fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?


I've seen it in a couple of supermarkets in San Francisco, The line moves very quickly and efficiently.
 
2013-01-02 11:29:29 PM

wildcardjack: This logic is more applicable in a place without express lanes, actually.

It's a matter of number of items ahead of you versus number of transactions. If two lanes have about the same number of items going through but one has more transactions then you join the lane with fewer transactions. That's because each item takes the same amount of time to scan, but payment is always a slow down.


Sort of like applying rate law to traffic signals. Wait, has anyone published a paper on this yet?
 
2013-01-02 11:30:19 PM
kwame
Typical evaluation of a real world scenario by a mathematician. Create a version of that scenario that makes your point and work backwards using math to prove you were right.


That's not a mathematician.
That's people in the medical field or MBAs who were forced to take a statistics class.

/to paraphrase a math prof specializing in probability theory and statistics: "people doing medical research tend to hate mathematicians."
 
2013-01-02 11:33:41 PM

Austinoftx: I always use a live cashier out of solidarity for their job security.


fark em. Depending on the store you have a 50% chance of getting a moron or a vengeful psycho. Only at Harris Teeter have I had consistently good cashier service.

I can't wait til food service goes the robot route. I can use a touch screen to order better than the jokers behind the counter. At least they figured out I can pour my own drink.
 
2013-01-02 11:36:23 PM

moothemagiccow: Austinoftx: I always use a live cashier out of solidarity for their job security.

fark em. Depending on the store you have a 50% chance of getting a moron or a vengeful psycho. Only at Harris Teeter have I had consistently good cashier service.

I can't wait til food service goes the robot route. I can use a touch screen to order better than the jokers behind the counter. At least they figured out I can pour my own drink.


Look for the guy in a tie, it's the shift manager. Knows his shiat.
 
2013-01-02 11:37:03 PM

No Line For Beer: skinink: I'm so happy Stop and Shop has the scan as you shop devices. I can buy $70 in groceries and spend five minutes or less actually checking out in line.

Stop and Shop/Giant really seems to be trying to do away with the human cashiers. I can't remember the last time I was in one of their stores (including the day before Thanksgiving) and seen more than three cashiers. Unfortunately it forces more people into the self-check out lines that have no business near any type of automated machine.


I always use the self scan device at stop and shop. You can also give it to a cashier at checkout if the self checkout lanes suck. I get to bag my groceries how I want to.

The only time it backfires is the random audits they do... Them you have to have human intervention
 
2013-01-02 11:43:08 PM
My grocery store usually puts the pants-on-head affirmative action hires in the fast lane, so your five-item checkout takes roughly five times as long as a sixty-item checkout with a non-Palin checker.
 
2013-01-02 11:43:46 PM
The self checkout is easy and fast. The only time it's slow is when the cashier just isn't there. I've had it happen often enough I'm wondering if I shouldn't expedite the checkout process by bypassing the checkout entirely.
 
2013-01-02 11:46:00 PM

badLogic: fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?

I've seen it in a couple of supermarkets in San Francisco, The line moves very quickly and efficiently.


They do it at Fry's Electronics. On a busy day they have someone telling you which cashier to go to because no one at the front of the line pays attention. They don't even look at the display that says which one is open, probably because they've been waiting the longest and they're bored. They use it at some Best Buys too, and Old Navy in New York. Also I find the herding mechanism demeaning. They also distract you in the line with other products, which causes some people to continue to shop and raises the question of who is first. You always find the cashiers (who care) waving their arms or yelling to get the next person's attention. In Old Navy they made this worse by saying "Following" instead of "Next" for what reason I can't imagine.

Separate lines are fine. People understand them and they require less vigilance from the customer, who doesn't care at this point. They might waffle and get angry about the length of lines, but once they choose one it can be the last decision they need to make.

//by god don't get me started on mall checkout desks. Those things are re-farking-tarded.
 
2013-01-02 11:46:04 PM

Fisty Bum: Look, Mrs. Simpson, the express line is the fastest line not always. That old man up front, he is starved for attention, he will talk the cashier's head off.  Let's cut to... that line.

But that's the longest!

Yes, but look: all pathetic single men. Only cash, no chit-chat.


Came for this
 
2013-01-02 11:53:28 PM

moothemagiccow: badLogic: fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?

I've seen it in a couple of supermarkets in San Francisco, The line moves very quickly and efficiently.

They do it at Fry's Electronics. On a busy day they have someone telling you which cashier to go to because no one at the front of the line pays attention. They don't even look at the display that says which one is open, probably because they've been waiting the longest and they're bored. They use it at some Best Buys too, and Old Navy in New York. Also I find the herding mechanism demeaning. They also distract you in the line with other products, which causes some people to continue to shop and raises the question of who is first. You always find the cashiers (who care) waving their arms or yelling to get the next person's attention. In Old Navy they made this worse by saying "Following" instead of "Next" for what reason I can't imagine.

Separate lines are fine. People understand them and they require less vigilance from the customer, who doesn't care at this point. They might waffle and get angry about the length of lines, but once they choose one it can be the last decision they need to make.

//by god don't get me started on mall checkout desks. Those things are re-farking-tarded.


What is a mall checkout desk? How is it different from the information desk? Why would you need to check out from the mall when you've already purchased whatever from the individual store?
 
2013-01-03 12:00:52 AM

moothemagiccow: Austinoftx: I always use a live cashier out of solidarity for their job security.

fark em. Depending on the store you have a 50% chance of getting a moron or a vengeful psycho. Only at Harris Teeter have I had consistently good cashier service.

I can't wait til food service goes the robot route. I can use a touch screen to order better than the jokers behind the counter. At least they figured out I can pour my own drink.


I Remember and Arby's in Dillion Colorado (just outside of a busy ski resort) was testing out customer automated touch screens to order food. I always had fun ordering that way, but I am computer savvy. The old people the next line over were thoroughly confused. They still ended up having to keep "cashier" type staff who stood and watched you enter your order and answer your questions.

The next year I came back, they had removed the equipment and it was a normal Arby's.

10 years ago... Good times.
 
2013-01-03 12:05:46 AM

fozziewazzi: Do you have a picture of this in action?


Gonz: I'm not finding anything off the top of my head.


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/23/business/23checkout.html
 
2013-01-03 12:12:16 AM

Dr.Fey: fozziewazzi: Do you have a picture of this in action?

Gonz: I'm not finding anything off the top of my head.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/23/business/23checkout.html


The newish Whole Foods in the Haight district of San Francisco does this.  Check is always fast there.
 
2013-01-03 12:15:40 AM

fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?


I don't buy his claim.

It would be a mess. It definitely wouldn't be faster on average though it would avoid being stuck forever behind a guy paying in pennies.
 
2013-01-03 12:20:41 AM
No, math shows that under one extremely unlikely condition, express lanes can possibly be slower.

That's why the author is a math *teacher*, and not a mathematician, and likely does not have the skills to perform the analysis while considering multivariate random parameters.
 
2013-01-03 12:25:53 AM

EvilEgg: It is the number of transactions, not the number of items. With the scanners a good clerk can ring up more than one item a second, but the counting cash, validation of credit, or filling in of a check will take a minute or so.


Hey! I read the article too! Stop stealing my strategy!
 
2013-01-03 12:31:45 AM
This article is a horrific example of people writing shiat about which they know nothing. The author would do well to work the front end of any reasonably busy grocery for a few hours on a Sunday. Those 5 people he's talking about in the normal line? They have 75-150 items each, not 20. 4 of the 5 people in the express checkout? They each have 3-5 items. His math isn't the problem, it's the arbitrarily convenient values he plugs in for the variables that skews everything.

Employing deus ex machina in literature makes you look uninspired; doing so in math makes you look like a dumbass.

/works on the front end in a grocery store
 
2013-01-03 12:33:05 AM

Plant Rights Activist: The self checkout is easy and fast. The only time it's slow is when the cashier just isn't there. I've had it happen often enough I'm wondering if I shouldn't expedite the checkout process by bypassing the checkout entirely.


IME, they are always "there" even when they're not visible. A few times they've even assisted me by punching in the code for produce before I can look it up. I think they just want to go back to goofing off instead of watching me to make sure I don't steal.
 
2013-01-03 12:33:17 AM
I enjoy the self checkout pooling lane most of the time. I've had to get into way too many fights with assholes that try and cut the line by acting like they don't know the line for self checkout is pooling, though. Those machines have been there 10+ years already and you know god damn well you don't pick one of those machines out, you wait in the pooling line and take the next one available when it is your turn.
 
2013-01-03 12:34:26 AM
My Local Grocery is generally rather good with the express lane thing. However they once put "William"* on the thing. I wanted to cock-punch the manager for that scheduling. Interestingly, they also screw it up the other way sometimes. There is a cashier who is simply unreal; she can ring up a cart-full of groceries is less time than it takes me to slide my card and punch in the PIN. I have actually told the assistant manager I would be willing to accept a 10% surcharge if I could get her line every time, because the fluidity, speed, and accuracy makes checking out a pleasure. But slapping her in the express lane is wasted - she would be much better making the slower lanes move faster, rather than the meaningless gains for the express lane


* William is older than some australopithecine lineages and has a work speed that varies between continental drift and gimpy glacier. Upon complaining about taking forever to get out of the store, most of our friends will simply ask "William or Sally?"; said Sally being crazier than a shiathouse rat and apt to run off to replace an item she deems "damaged" even if one would need to use an electron microscope to detect what differentiates your "damamged" item from the Platonic Ideal - I have been held up while she did a price-check for an item I didn't ask for, and was quite happy to pay the price quoted.

/Even the Idjit Twins are better than the Wally World, where I once told my wife that I could get through a certain cashier's line quicker if I killed her, then learned actual necromancy, and raised her as a zombie.
 
2013-01-03 12:44:32 AM
Anyone going through an express lane, then using coupons, should be summarily executed.

On the whole, I just go through the line that has men in it. No offense ladies, but you take too farking long. Men tend to buy fewer numbers of things, and whether it's cash or a card, they have the payment ready by the time they reach the checker. Women wait until they're quoted a price and then start sifting through their Saarlaac of a purse looking for the checkbook.

/Rant over
 
2013-01-03 12:45:03 AM
fozziewazzi: And no, you cant take your 16 items to the 10-item express lane when no one is there. Woe to the cashier that has to explain to the guy that just came up behind you that wanted to be in and out with his 1 item in 60 seconds why he has to wait a few extra minutes because you can't count.

Since that idle cashier probably gets 6+ items scanned before the next shopper gets in line, he waits no longer than for any other 10-item customer. Plus, like you, I swipe my card while she's saying "HELLOdidyoufindeverything?"
 
2013-01-03 12:56:34 AM

tortuga: I can usually handle grocery store traffic, but what really gets me is when I shop at Walgreens or CVS. Every single time I get in line, the person directly in front of me has a ton of coupons or, more than likely, wishes to argue with the checkout person about the price in the weekly circular vs. the price that was just rung up. Worst yet, is when the cashier has to process a rain-check for the customer who just has to have their brand of hairspray for $2.99. God that sucks, and it's every... single... time I happen to shop at one of those stores. I honestly don't know how they stay in business.


There is stupid money in drugs.
 
2013-01-03 12:57:41 AM

skinink: I'm so happy Stop and Shop has the scan as you shop devices. I can buy $70 in groceries and spend five minutes or less actually checking out in line.


What is this wizardry you speak of? That actually seems pretty cool.
 
2013-01-03 01:00:56 AM
fozziewazzi: Gonz: jaylectricity: Gonz: The single queue, where the next person goes to the next available register, is really the only way to go.

That sounds like a nightmare in a grocery store.

But it's not. It's incredibly efficient. You get one line, and when a register is about to open up, a number lights up and shows the next person where to go. You spread the inefficiencies randomly across all open registers, and remove any incentive for trying to somehow "game" the system by finding a quicker cashier.

I've seen that work at banks, but not at grocery stores with people pushing around loaded grocery carts. Do you have a picture of this in action?

I don't buy his claim.

It would be a mess. It definitely wouldn't be faster on average though it would avoid being stuck forever behind a guy paying in pennies.


I was dead set against queues too, but now that I've been through Fry's and Whole Food's checkout lines dozens of times in just a couple of minutes, I'm reformed. You're in one long line... that moves FAST. No one gets through the line "faster" than average, but then, half of us don't have to wait "longer" than average either. The only thing that annoys me about queues is when there's a tie-wearing "usher" who could be better put to work as another cashier.
 
2013-01-03 01:01:38 AM
Depends completely on individual experience. The Publix near my house has an express lane and they always have the slowest, oldest, or mentally handicapped person operating it. Also, they have to ring up and bag themselves.
 
2013-01-03 01:08:46 AM

Austinoftx:
Common sense also says that if business is slow and the express lane is free, I should be able to bring 16 or 21 or whatever items without the cashier biatching that I have too many items.


No, common sense says: why the fark would you need to use the express lane if business is slow? Buy fewer items if you want to use the express lane. You're not a princess with special privileges who gets to slow down the people that actually follow the rules.
 
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