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Why Express Check Out Lines Are A Waste Of Time

With all the pomp and circumstance of fireworks, the champagne bottle cork pop and a ball drop in NYC, we almost let a milestone slip by.  Happy 30th birthday to the Internet.  Jan. 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the switchover of all computers on ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor, to a technology called TCP/IP. TCP is short for “Transmission Control Protocol," and IP “Internet Protocol.” Together these two technologies work together to route Internet data traffic, or “packets”, from one Internet-connected computer to another. In simpler terms, TCP/IP is how the Internet works efficiently and it revolutionized the world.  A pretty big feat for only being 30!

January 1, 2013 also begins the second phase of the Energy and Independence Security Act passed in 2007. That means we say goodbye to an old friend, the 75 watt bulb.  Under federal law, 75 watt bulbs will no longer be produced or imported just like 100 watt bulbs were banned in 2012. However, stores can continue to sell the stock on hand. The act stipulates that most screw-in bulbs must use at least 27% less energy by 2014.  

So is it really faster to use the express (10 items or less) line at grocery and department stores?  Lifehacker editor Adam Dachis asked math whiz Dan Meyer to crunch some numbers to see if the express line is truly an express. Let's say you’re in the express line with five people in front of you, each with 10 items apiece for a total of 50 items. The regular line might have five people as well but each with 20 items to purchase. According to Mr. Meyers calculations, it takes 2.8 seconds to scan an item and every person in line adds 48 seconds to the total time. Even with equal lines, the express checkout will take 4:28 and the normal will be 4:56. Despite the larger number of items, the difference is pretty minimal right?

But let's take out the mathematical equations (I was never good at math anyway) and look at other indicators that may slow up the  express line. If you have 1 item or 100 items you still run the risk of the line stopping.  The shopper in front of you begins to write a dreaded check just as the last item is scanned, the register runs out of receipt paper, the cashier has to go pick up a couple packs of cigarettes from the customer service counter, the list goes on and on and these all add up to longer wait times.  Because the express line generally gets used more often than not, your chances of waiting longer increase in the express line!

Now just because the express checkout lane doesn't work as designed doesn't mean it won't be useful in some situations. When the number of people in every line is equal, or the express checkout lane is shorter, you're often more likely to save time by choosing it. When the decision isn't so clear, however, your best bet is to pick the shortest line with a lot of items. Meyer's math suggests that each person is worth about 17 items, so it's often better to get behind a few large shopping carts than a bunch of small baskets.
 
Other tricks work, too. People tend to avoid lane 13, so it's often a good place to look first when you're in a hurry. The Wall Street Journal also notes that single lines are most efficient, so if you can shop somewhere doesn't let you pick a line but simply funnels you into one you're going to benefit. They also mention an interesting statistic about us guys: we're more likely to give up on a line than women. If you find two long lines and one is predominantly male, choose that one. By the time you get to checkout, it might have fewer people than you originally counted.

Ultimately, it's just a line. Bring something to do while you wait and factor ten minutes into your trip for checkout. Hopefully it won't take that long, but then you'll be pleasantly surprised—especially if you avoid the express lane under most circumstances and take these tips into account.





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People : Adam DachisDan Meyer


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01/04/2013 5:49AM
Why Express Check Out Lines Are A Waste Of Time
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01/04/2013 4:50PM
I agree!
Places like Walmart let people in the express line with MANY more items than allowed - I asked once when I lady ahead of me had 100 items in a 20 item express and the cashier told me they were not allowed to turn them away or they would be fired - low lifes who take advantage of that!
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