How to Make the Holiday Checkout Line Less Painful

scienceoflines How to Make the Holiday Checkout Line Less Painful

You’ve probably found yourself at the end of an unbelievably long line at a mall or grocery store more than once this holiday season and you know it’s only going to get worse as last minute shopper panic sets in in about two weeks.

In a research project conducted during last year’s holiday season and posted on YouTube, Bill Hammack, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concluded that a single-file line leading to three cashiers is about three times faster than having a separate line for each cashier.

So, why don’t you see more single-file lines in stores?  Why do so many still choose to queue customers in individual lines, increasing the possibility of line stoppers disrupting the flow of traffic?  Today’s Wall Street Journal tackles this question and uncovers some interesting techniques retailers use to either distract customers from the wait or make the line move faster.  You may have noticed an increase of grocery-store-esque impulse buy items placed near registers.  The hope is not only to increase your purchase amount, but also to keep your mind occupied through the last minutes of waiting.  At places like Home Depot and the Apple Store, line-busters are employed to go through the long retail queues and either check folks our or start the process so it’s faster once they reach the register.

To further complicate the “best” way to get customers through a line is the psychology of waiting.  Once you cross the three minute mark of waiting, perceived wait time increases with each additional minute.  That’s why a five minute wait will often feel like a ten.

This holiday season, we encourage you to be aware of the techniques retailers are using to make queues more efficient, be patient when they aren’t and promise yourself next year you’ll start your shopping earlier.

[via Wall Street Journal]

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