A while back, Web Watch wrote about whether the EXPRESS LANE would be faster than a REGULAR LANE at the supermarket, based on the number of people you had to wait in line behind.
Some additional analysis has been done on the optimum supermarket (or large chain store) checkout practices, and you may be suprised at what they found: THE LANE YOU CHOOSE TO WAIT ON WILL INVARIABLY TAKE LONGER THAN OTHERS.
What the research showed is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of cash registers that are open to handle the crowds of shoppers, but it comes down to simple line management.
In essence, if the customer is left to select whatever line they would like to checkout from, then the customer is locked into that line regardless of whether a new line is opened up or if other cashiers are faster at the register.
On the other hand, if the store uses a 1-to-many queueing system, where a single line of customers feeds any number of open registers, then the next customer in line will be sent to the next available cashier. If one transaction is taking an impossibly long time to resolve, that checkout will not hold up any other customer from being able to make their purchase quickly as they can be sent to a different, open register.
One can see this in action at your local grocery store that has a self-checkout area. As the waiting customers pile up behind the four available self-checkouts, a single customer who has no idea how to tie their shoes (let alone use a self-checkout machine quickly) will not hold up the line as everyone who is waiting still has three other machines to use.
Web Watch has seen Best Buy and other major electronics retailers do the checkout corral process during the holiday season, and the lines definitely do move faster than if you had everyone waiting on their own line. Plus, the checkout areas end up being more managable to manuever through.
Why more stores don’t do this, especially during high-traffic shopping days, is beyond us.