By Dennis Priore
Here’s my theory: People will wait up to a half hour in line for ice cream without complaining – with a smile on their face, but if there are two people ahead of them in line at a grocery store, you’ll hear “why don’t they hire more cashiers?” Don’t believe me? Do your own research, look around.
I’m not referring to the wait caused by the cashier and customer who engage about some inane subject or the cashiers who talk about what they did last night while you are waiting. No, this is just waiting in the usual line.
Here’s what research tells us about waiting in line. First the amount of time that people wait in line is overestimated by 36 percent. If people ahead of you check out in a fast and timely manner you will leave with a positive experience, but if the wait is lengthy you will judge your shopping experience negatively.
Waiting puts us in contact with the unknown, we don’t know when this exercise will end, and people hate the unknown.
Several years ago, Houston airport officials were fielding many complaints from passengers about the delay in retrieving their baggage. There was a one-minute walk followed by a seven-minute wait for the bags, meaning 88 percent of the time was spent standing around. The airport decided to move the luggage carousel farther away from the gates. The process still took eight minutes, and passengers walked six times longer to retrieve their bags, but they were occupied, and the complaints dropped to near zero.
MIT operations researcher Richard Larson’s findings are that occupied time (in this case walking to the carousel) feels shorter than (standing) unoccupied time. People who wait less than anticipated leave happier, that’s why Disney – a well-established expert on line queuing – overestimates its wait times for its theme park rides.
Supermarkets actually make a killing while you are waiting in line. That gum, candy and National Enquirer that you purchase while line squatting constitutes a $5.5 billion annual enterprise.
According to a Sept. 7, 2016, New York Times article, “How to pick the fastest line in a supermarket,” you should:
1. Get behind the shopper who has a full cart. Sounds crazy right, but every person requires a fixed amount of time to say hello, goodbye and to pay – an average of 41 seconds, along with three seconds to scan each object. So being behind several shoppers with just a few items takes longer.
2. Avoid the cashiers who are chatty, some even comment on every item that is being purchased.
3. Look at what people have in their cart. Six of the same items takes less time to process than six different items.
You can speed up your own cashing out by always facing the barcode toward the cashier. If you are buying clothes, remove the hangers and pull the tags out for easy scanning.
Finally, lose the idea that you are cursed. Remember the times when it went smoothly and realize that it evens out in the long run.
So what does all this mean? Well our attitude influences our disposition on how we perceive things. If the sight of a few people in line at a checkout brings steam to your ears, it will be worse than for the person who takes it in stride. Now if you’re in the former category, here’s a way to ease your pain – remember waiting in line for ice cream? What if when it’s finally your turn you hear the cashier say “will that be in a cone or dish?”
Dennis Priore, of East Amherst, avoids cashiers who are chatty.