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Why the Other Checkout Line Always Moves Faster

When you’re shopping does it always seem like your line is the slowest? You’re not entirely imagining things, statistically your line is slower more often than not. Watch this interesting video to see how research on telephone trunk lines explains holiday shopping queues.

Bill Hammack, the guy behind Engineer Guy Video, takes a moment to explain how research in the early days of the telephone industry applies to the queuing systems used in modern stores.

There’s two big take aways from the video. First, you can’t avoid selecting the slowest line most of the time in the open queue system (even if, psychologically, you feel like you’re doing a great job hunting for the best line); and second, shopping at a store with a shared queue that feeds multiple cashiers is always superior in terms of line speed.

Why One Line Is Likely to Move Faster [YouTube via Make]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/22/10

Comments (2)

  1. Peter

    what happens if you are the unlucky sod.

    in my considerable experience of hating ques..

    rule 1. look at how much people are buying
    rule 2. look at the customer(s) to decide if they are likely to quick at paying or not
    rule 3. judge the cashier. maybe you can help improve my stereotypes…
    pick middle aged woman. too young, they are either learning or don’t care. Too old and they are slow. Male and just aren’t able to be go quick enough.
    Bench much… pick people who also joined the que at the same time and then get P***** that they still some how beat you to be served even after you worked the odds!
    please help improve the rules.

  2. Steven

    That’s how Best Buy does it this holiday season, but once i was foiled and the second time the person behind me was delayed, because they moved people to the register before the transaction was completely done. The first time, as I waited at the register, the cashier had to leave to retrieve the item, and then it took the customer a while to decide if he wanted the extended warranty or not. Unfortunately, I had to listen to all the options and then his slow decision as customers on other registers who were behind me in the main line finished their transactions. The next day I had a coupon which they had trouble with, delaying the person behind me.

    If they waited until the customer actually started walking away, it would have been more fair. Hopefully they will read this.

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