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(Wired)   Why you always choose the slowest line in the supermarket. Turns out math hates you as much as the grocery store does   (wired.com ) divider line
    More: Interesting, traffic engineering, rational choice, waiting rooms  
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8175 clicks; posted to Main » on 15 Jul 2014 at 9:36 AM (2 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



Voting Results (Smartest)
View Voting Results: Smartest and Funniest

2014-07-15 09:50:14 AM  
9 votes:
I choose the line with the hottest chick, whether she's a customer or employee.

Then I don't care if the line moves quickly or not.

True story.
2014-07-15 09:39:45 AM  
9 votes:
Best lesson the Simpsons taught me: choose the line with single males even if longer.
2014-07-15 09:04:51 AM  
7 votes:
The secret: watch the registers where there are female customers whose purses are in the top section of the cart. They will be paying by check and jamming up everybody else's lives in the process. Often they will ask the cashier whom to make the check out to, even if they're at a Target where there are approximately 18,000 Target logos within their line of sight at all times.

You want to check out behind parents who brought their kids. The kids may be acting up, but that's why the parents want to GTFO of the store ASAP, so they'll be swiping their credit cards and not farking around. If the kids are actually helping bag groceries or otherwise making themselves useful, so much the better.

But the presence of the purse trumps the presence of the kids. Any woman who pays by check while shopping with kids is an oblivious imbecile.

The only time I have ever seen a man pay by check at a grocery store is in the opening of "The Big Lebowski."
2014-07-15 10:23:17 AM  
4 votes:
Why the fark do people that have been retired for thiry years still wait until Saturday and Sunday to go grocery shopping!?!?
2014-07-15 10:20:25 AM  
4 votes:
Why not just do what I do, and shop at 7am on Saturday? No one else in the damn store.

I hate lines, and am a morning person, so it works great for me. Produce is usually decimated sat/sun afternoon so there's still a great selection.
2014-07-15 09:53:32 AM  
4 votes:

I vote we demand all retailers have one lane that's staffed every second the store is open with the following sign:

20 ITEMS OR FEWER

NO COUPONS

CASH/DEBIT/CHARGE ONLY

NO BULLSHIAT ARGUING OVER SOMETHING THAT RANG UP FOR A NICKEL MORE

IF IT DOESN'T SCAN, FORGET IT.

DON'T EVEN THINK OF ASKING THE CASHIER TO SEND SOMEONE TO FIND A THING YOU COULDN'T

THANK YOU, COME AGAIN

2014-07-15 10:19:08 AM  
3 votes:
And if you really want to get out there quicker, help bag your groceries. Especially if you have a full cart.
2014-07-15 09:58:53 AM  
3 votes:

Imperialism: 1. Self-checkout should be reserved for those who used to be grocery store cashiers. They're much more efficient at scanning and bagging, and many of us still remember the most popular produce codes.



In my experience, the self-checkouts take longer. I do as much as i can to help. I have my store card out already in my hand as i approach. I have all my items in my basket with the UPCs facing up at the ready, and i have no coupons.

Yet i still find myself "waiting" for the machine to accept produce weights, have to wait for the conveyor to move the single item down the line before it can accept another scan, have to wait for it to "think" about what it wants to do do next, etc.

And if im buying Beer, or medicine, or anything else that 20% of the items in the store require overrides, you are farked and have to waive down one of the minions.

Most of the time, you are still better off going to a human checkout lane, because there there is no computer that has to 'confirm' everything at each step. It just assume the cashier is doing the right thing.

I like the idea of self-checkout, it just hasnt been fully developed yet.
2014-07-15 09:40:49 AM  
3 votes:
I look for the best mix of:

1. Age of customers in line.
2. Items per customer.

Grandma with one item might write a check and take longer than a 30 year old with a cart full who will pay with a credit card.
2014-07-15 10:47:44 AM  
2 votes:
Just relax, wait your turn, pay, and leave.  You haven't got anywhere too important to go.  People get aggravated over trivial stuff.
2014-07-15 10:21:06 AM  
2 votes:
You don't ALWAYS pick the slowest line. You just don't remember the dozens of uneventful, smoothly run transactions the same way you remember the few bad ones. Our brains are wired to put the bad stuff (where did I get jumped by the sabre-toothed cat the other day?) at the front. Same reason I can't remember what I had to eat at my 6th birthday party, but I remember we had hot dogs at my 7th birthday party, because I also fell out of a tree and broke my arm that day. "Stumbling on Happiness" is a cool book that covers this better.
2014-07-15 10:20:44 AM  
2 votes:

spman: Don't most stores use the Telecheck machine now where all the person has to do is sign the check?


Put an old person in that line and see how long the automated transaction takes.

"I put the check in where?"
"How does it know what I want to write?"
"Is that thing going to steal my money?"
"That doesn't cost extra, does it?  I'm not paying extra."
"I bet my grandson could make a machine like that!  He's sharp as a whistle. He's going to attend East Dakota State next year."
"Let me see that check so I can enter it in my register."
"You sure that thing isn't going to steal my money?  I heard last night on Fox that Obama..."
2014-07-15 10:17:45 AM  
2 votes:
Solution: Overestimate how long you think it'll take you to get through the line. A few extra minutes waiting probably won't kill you, and will give you some time to think about various things you've done over the day and reflect on them. Relax, and remember one day you might be the one holding up the line due to something going wrong. Calm down.
2014-07-15 10:16:38 AM  
2 votes:
Also, on a tangent, fark the people buying lottery tickets at the convenience store. Their bullshiat holds up the people just buying a soda or a pack of smokes. Especially when they are trying to determine with furrowed brow which scratch ticket is the best one that they want.
2014-07-15 10:11:26 AM  
2 votes:
My favorite observation is the impatient, rolling of eyes person who's shopping in primetime at the market who's angry that there is a line. Yet people stand in line for hours/days to get a phone.
2014-07-15 10:01:56 AM  
2 votes:
WanPhat:

The fact that the world is not made up of engineers is evident at the airport baggage check.  Simple logic, no calculation necessary, would tell you that it would work so much better if everyone would just stand back and go forward to get their bag when they see it.  But no, everyone stakes out a spot pressed against the belt so you have to wait until your bag comes around to your exact spot and then try to work your bag through the jam of people who won't move. when you consider that people still have sex and engage in pleasant, personal conversations.

FTFY
2014-07-15 09:50:56 AM  
2 votes:
The calculation and conclusion that one line that disperses to the different counters is more efficient is an engineering school staple.  All engineers were taught this.  The effect is that engineers spend the rest of their lives frustrated because most places don't do their lines that way.

The fact that the world is not made up of engineers is evident at the airport baggage check.  Simple logic, no calculation necessary, would tell you that it would work so much better if everyone would just stand back and go forward to get their bag when they see it.  But no, everyone stakes out a spot pressed against the belt so you have to wait until your bag comes around to your exact spot and then try to work your bag through the jam of people who won't move.

I'm a very tall and large fellow.  Most of my travels that involve baggage checking are to and from Asia (where the people tend to be smaller).  These days I stand back and when I see my bag I say "excuse me" and push through, grab my bag, hoist it over everyone and leave.  No objections yet.
2014-07-15 09:48:25 AM  
2 votes:
1. Self-checkout should be reserved for those who used to be grocery store cashiers. They're much more efficient at scanning and bagging, and many of us still remember the most popular produce codes.

2. Look for the surly teenager who will check people out quickly. But remember that there's a very subtle difference between "just wants you to leave" and "doesn't care at all; will scan one item every 15 seconds."

3. Don't get in the chatty cashier's line.
2014-07-15 09:46:46 AM  
2 votes:
It helps to know the checkers.  And avoid the coupon clippers and old ladies paying with pennies.
2014-07-15 09:39:23 AM  
2 votes:
Self check out when available, or just look for the shortest lines.
When I have to shop at Walmart, check out is either the garden center or electronics
2014-07-15 02:56:57 PM  
1 vote:

stonicus: Self checkouts are for like a drink and a candy bar.  Five items or more, get in the regular line.


Unfortunately stores have seized on this as a way to reduce staffing again.  My Safeway (generally a good store, well run until the last year or two) shifted 6 lanes to 8 self-serve lanes.  Which is fine except the damned things never work right.  And instead of having four cashiers plus a manager up front, they now have ONE cashier plus one watching the 6 self-serve lanes (two are always not working or not used).

The reason we're in bad shape is because we, as a nation, would rather save 20 cents on a box of cornflakes than ensure employees are paid decently. And because we let corporate douchebags pass this stuff off as "savings" when it really just benefits shareholders and execs.  All those cashiers are now looking for work...and all the stores are doing it now.

hell, even 15-20 years ago understaffing was a serious problem in retail nationwide. At a busy waldenbooks we  were routinely forced to operate for stretches with manager plus one, and occasionally with a single employee on duty, for hours at a go. Especially midweek.  The rule went from "One at cashwrap, one shelving/stocking" to "do what you can".....and eventually "I give up".  You get blasted for losses but have insufficient employees to serve the customers and stock the store.  But no, we'll continue to shop at whoever gives us an extra nickel off, then complain about unemployment and bad service.

....then i go to japan and see efficient, clean, wellstocked 7-11s with edible fresh food and smiling workers who do a serious job and I wonder what the hell -- it doesn't actually cost that much more, but you know what? they actually pay a living wage and it's not considered "beneath you" to do such work.
2014-07-15 11:30:15 AM  
1 vote:

Big Beef Burrito: Big Beef Burrito: Why the fark do people that have been retired for thiry years still wait until Saturday and Sunday to go grocery shopping!?!?



Two reasons:
1) We often don't know what day it is as we just don't care.
2) Just to get in line in front of you so we can watch you squirm.  Cheap entertainment.
2014-07-15 11:04:20 AM  
1 vote:
Do not go to Walmart on the 1st. Ever.
2014-07-15 10:38:47 AM  
1 vote:
I usually use self-checkout.  Usually there's a line, but I use the wait to silently judge the relative intellect of the people trying to use the things.  It provides great amusement.
2014-07-15 10:32:41 AM  
1 vote:

MattyBlast: "Queuing Theorists??"  Does our society really need such a profession?  Apparently so.


I took a semester of Markovian Queuing theory in grad school.  Fascinating subject.  It made Quantum Physics seem simple and uncomplicated in comparison.  The prof would start most lessons by asking "using common sense, what do you think the answer to [insert question here] would be?" and then go on to show mathematically how common sense got it completely wrong.

Sadly, being able to model a grocery store checkout with queuing theory has never helped me get through the line before my ice cream melted.
2014-07-15 10:31:39 AM  
1 vote:

WanPhat: The calculation and conclusion that one line that disperses to the different counters is more efficient is an engineering school staple.  All engineers were taught this.  The effect is that engineers spend the rest of their lives frustrated because most places don't do their lines that way.

The fact that the world is not made up of engineers is evident at the airport baggage check.  Simple logic, no calculation necessary, would tell you that it would work so much better if everyone would just stand back and go forward to get their bag when they see it.  But no, everyone stakes out a spot pressed against the belt so you have to wait until your bag comes around to your exact spot and then try to work your bag through the jam of people who won't move.

I'm a very tall and large fellow.  Most of my travels that involve baggage checking are to and from Asia (where the people tend to be smaller).  These days I stand back and when I see my bag I say "excuse me" and push through, grab my bag, hoist it over everyone and leave.  No objections yet.


I stand back, loudly say "excuse me," push my way through, then swing the bag sideways taking out the campers mumbling "what kind of an idiot stands within a foot of the carousel?"
2014-07-15 10:29:23 AM  
1 vote:
MythDragon's rules for the express lane.

You are allowed to go 20% over the limit without incruing any face punches.

For example if the limit is 10 items you may have 12.
If it's 20, you may have 14.
If the limit is 12, you can only have 14, because you always have to round down. If your excess limit number is 2.9, it becomes 2.

Definition of 'Item':

An item is something in a container of any sort. A box of cerial is one item. A bag of loose fruit is one item. Individual un-bagged fruit (or similar edible items) is one item each, as it comes in it's own natural container (ie, the skin or rind)

2 for 1 priced items still count as two items. You are getting two items for the price of one item, but refer to the first 5 words in this sentance.

Items secured together (by the store or manufacturer only.) count as one item. For example like how Costco will have two gallons of milk secured together by that plastic thing and are sold as a set....that is one item.

Similar items are still seperate items. If you have 5 boxes of Swanson turkey neck and chitlins frozen dinners, even though they are the same brand and type, they are 5 items. This prevents people from trying to abuse the system and bring 8 shopping carts of the same thing and claim it as one item.

Compainion items that are not priced do not count towards your item limit. For instance if you get a box of salad from the salad bar, and it comes with dressing packets, those packets do not count toward the limit. If they are priced, this does become a grey area. Generaly it will be tolerated as long as it is not abused and understood to be necissary to go along with your inital item. You can't enjoy your salad for lunch without dressing, so it is allowed a pass. If you are buying supplies for a cookout, however, the rules remains in strict effect. Yes you need ketchup and mustard and buns for your hotdogs and hamburgers, but if you are over the limit, carry your ass to the slow lane.

Additional rules:
No coupons unless you are the only one in line. If you have already begun the checkout process and someone comes into line. You've got 5 coupons to wrap that shiat up.

No checks. Seriously, why are you writing a check for 10 items? Get with the damn 21st centuary and use your debit card. Hell, get some cash back for the next time you hit the express lane and save everyone some time.

Have your cash or card ready or at least easily accessable. After your purchases have been totaled and bagged, and the cashier is now looking at you like she expects some sort of action on your part is not the time to be digging through that overnight bag you call a purse to find your debit card which you leave rolling around loose somewhere on the bottom with your chapstick, tampons, perfume, panties that got dirtied the night before whilst banging your boss, lipstick, 4 bottles of water, flax seed bars, old corroded pennies and all the other crap you keep in there.

We understand that sometimes you can't math, and might exceed your allowable overage by another item or two. This will be judged on a case by case basis. This is judged strictly on a whim and can be affected by how bad a mood the person behind you is in, how quickly everyone needs to be at work, how hot you are, and other various factors. You may get off with a warning, you may get a face punch. It's one of the risks you will have to be ready to accept.

These are the rules that have now been set forth. I expect everyone to abide by them.
2014-07-15 10:28:02 AM  
1 vote:

Gulper Eel: The secret: watch the registers where there are female customers whose purses are in the top section of the cart. They will be paying by check and jamming up everybody else's lives in the process. Often they will ask the cashier whom to make the check out to, even if they're at a Target where there are approximately 18,000 Target logos within their line of sight at all times.

You want to check out behind parents who brought their kids. The kids may be acting up, but that's why the parents want to GTFO of the store ASAP, so they'll be swiping their credit cards and not farking around. If the kids are actually helping bag groceries or otherwise making themselves useful, so much the better.

But the presence of the purse trumps the presence of the kids. Any woman who pays by check while shopping with kids is an oblivious imbecile.

The only time I have ever seen a man pay by check at a grocery store is in the opening of "The Big Lebowski."


As someone with three young'ens, I can certainly add validity to your "get behind the lady with kids" theory. We want to be out of those checkout lanes ASAP before one of our kleptomaniac kids swipes another candy bar from the pre-checkout "hey kids...CANDY!!!!" display - as to avoid stage five melt-downs ("I WANT A CANDY BAR - I WAS GOOOOOOOD") we'll often hurl our items at the register and pay whatever comes on screen...trust me, when my daughter is screaming about sweet-tarts, I'm not going to challenge whether or not the $.99 pasta was buy-one-get-one free. I just want the fark outta' there.
2014-07-15 10:23:33 AM  
1 vote:
Don't get behind poors or olds and you're fine.
2014-07-15 10:22:53 AM  
1 vote:
Article gets to "supermarkets don't have enough physical space" and that's where I stop reading. Walmart will have 30 lanes, 150 people waiting, and 4 cashiers. And it's not even that they won't staff it, they simply won't pay well enough to attract people capable of working the registers.
2014-07-15 10:19:07 AM  
1 vote:
I can answer this without RTFA.

Because the people in front of you in line are the same people who meander through the store at snail's pace, parking directly in front of popular items to stare blankly at them for two or three minutes while people scoot around them to grab what they need.  Inevitably they always manage to take the longest in line somehow even if they have exactly four items.

You're welcome!
2014-07-15 10:03:24 AM  
1 vote:

MemeSlave: It needs to be like a Bank or the DMV or a big print shop - push to 1 giant queue, have multiple registers service a single queue.   You'll have 1 long queue, but the average wait time for everyone in the queue will be minimized.


I guess you didn't read the article.
2014-07-15 10:01:16 AM  
1 vote:
Seven years in high school and college working a cash register and running a front end at a grocery store taught me many things. How to read a cashier and queue of customers to find the quickest line is just one of them.

A full conveyor belt of groceries is not a bad thing. Profile the line of customers as others have mentioned, but also take note of how many customers there are. Two medium orders may take longer than one large order. And take a gander at how quickly the cashier is scanning and bagging. That makes a huge difference in how quickly you'll get out of there.
2014-07-15 09:55:13 AM  
1 vote:

thecpt: Best lesson the Simpsons taught me: choose the line with single males even if longer.


"shakes tiny fit"

/I searched the thread for this before I posted
//just not with it today
2014-07-15 09:54:35 AM  
1 vote:
Protip: When they open up another lane, unless you can be the first one in it, is rarely worth it, as it seems people have to adjust to the shock of being in another lane and are not prepared for the new scenery, thus slowing things down*

*statement void if you are currently several carts back from the person causing a holdup. Then decide on a case by case how quickly their bullshiat is being resolved, especially if managers are being called over or people being dispatched to get things from the back during the delay.
2014-07-15 09:53:34 AM  
1 vote:

DrunkenYodaZen: Gulper Eel: The secret: watch the registers where there are female customers whose purses are in the top section of the cart. They will be paying by check and jamming up everybody else's lives in the process. Often they will ask the cashier whom to make the check out to, even if they're at a Target where there are approximately 18,000 Target logos within their line of sight at all times.

You want to check out behind parents who brought their kids. The kids may be acting up, but that's why the parents want to GTFO of the store ASAP, so they'll be swiping their credit cards and not farking around. If the kids are actually helping bag groceries or otherwise making themselves useful, so much the better.

But the presence of the purse trumps the presence of the kids. Any woman who pays by check while shopping with kids is an oblivious imbecile.

The only time I have ever seen a man pay by check at a grocery store is in the opening of "The Big Lebowski."

I saw an older woman in front of me count out 97 cents. It took her more than five minutes in the express lane. She had two items.


Yep, people using a check don't have to take a long time (although I haven't used on in close to 20 years). Just fill out all the information and write in the amount when it rings up. Cash, however, seems to slow things down. Either the customer is counting things out to the penny (often because they are on a fixed budget), or the cashier is thrown by having to make change. The worst, though, are the ultimate couponers. If you see a stack of coupons, run as fast as you can to another register. At least some of those coupons will be expired, some will be for some combo that the shopper hasn't really met (buy 3 of x and get y 75% off), and she will argue about every single coupon.
2014-07-15 09:52:33 AM  
1 vote:
"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 go to...that line. "
"But that's the longest."
"Yes, but look: all pathetic single men. Only cash, no chitchat."
2014-07-15 09:52:08 AM  
1 vote:
I thought it was just the idiots ahead of me who wait until their purchases are all rung up to start fishing out their debit card.  Seriously, people, you can swipe your card and enter your PIN while the cashier is ringing up those pork rinds, the POS system will handle it.  Also, put your cell phones away.
2014-07-15 09:49:18 AM  
1 vote:

Gulper Eel: The secret: watch the registers where there are female customers whose purses are in the top section of the cart. They will be paying by check and jamming up everybody else's lives in the process. Often they will ask the cashier whom to make the check out to, even if they're at a Target where there are approximately 18,000 Target logos within their line of sight at all times.


You can still pay for groceries with cheques? I haven't seen someone pay for anything in a retail store with a cheque in years. Then again I live in Canada where debit card use is supposed to be higher than in most countries. I am not even sure my grocery store takes cheques. Then again my wife does most of the shopping. Although back in my single days it was easy to choose a line at the store, pick the one with the cutest cashier.
2014-07-15 09:49:14 AM  
1 vote:

DrunkenYodaZen: I saw an older woman in front of me count out 97 cents. It took her more than five minutes in the express lane. She had two items.


I would also wager that she did not begin her search for payment until the clerk informed her that she did in fact have a balance due, and then it took her a moment to recover from the shock.  Only then did she begin digging for her change purse.

It's a good thing she had enough change on hand.  I've seen them stop mid-way and decide to write a check instead.  GAahhhhh
2014-07-15 09:48:45 AM  
1 vote:
Every single time.
I get in the shortest line and guess what?
Something farks up.
The register is out of tape and the new employee needs a manager with a key to change it.
The lady in front of me is digging for an expired coupon.
The lady in front of me is writing out a check, and marking her balance in her checkbook.
Some item must be PLU'ed by a manager.

I purposefully pick cashiers with downs because they don't goof off, too.
2014-07-15 09:46:33 AM  
1 vote:

thecpt: Best lesson the Simpsons taught me: choose the line with single males even if longer.


This. It has served me well. My wife thinks I'm a genius when she sees the ostensibly shorter line go kerflooey as some housewife starts arguing with the clerk about her 9 coupons and the relative merits of each item she is buying/returning.

Corollary shown in another episode: Old men like to chitchat with the clerks, plan accordingly.
2014-07-15 09:43:12 AM  
1 vote:
I shop at Publix, and they usually have enough registers open.  There are rarely lines.
2014-07-15 09:41:37 AM  
1 vote:
The place that drives me up the wall with this is Aldi's, they will have one register open with 10 people in line that all have entire carts filled to the brim, then they will open a second register on the opposite end and allow people who haven't been waiting at all to check out right away.
 
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