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August 26, 2021

Should grocery stores switch to a single-line checkout system?

You ever been in one of those new Wal-Mart super lines, the ones where – despite the stereotypes – you’re literally packed in next to a handful of screaming kids and at least two women that look like Aileen Wuornos?

Sure you have. And then you’ve likely wondered the following: "Why on earth, with all these cashiers, are they funnelling everyone in through one line-up instead of spreading us to each checkout? This is going to take forever."

Of course you thought that. Only, it never does. No matter how long that damn single line gets, the one-line queue always seems to rifle us through with remarkable efficiency.

So naturally, I began to wonder why this isn’t the case at grocery stores, the one place where line envy rivals the wait times at the Canada-U.S. border. Damn, I should’ve picked that lane. We were definitely here before that guy!

Apparently, though, grocery stores are finally starting to come around.

The Wall Street Journal reports several supermarkets in New York are adopting the single line system, some even sectioned off into two so express shoppers won’t have anything to complain about.

And while many grocery stores, especially in Canada, continue to use the traditional multiple-lines-for-multiple-cashiers system, it makes you wonder why supermarkets have waited so long to make the switch.

Banks and airports have used the single queue scheme for decades and, while neither are exactly tropical vacations, they appear to the most proficient methods of operation.

But maybe, as the WSJ wonders, supermarkets have overstated their desire to check through customers as quick as possible.

According to the article, spewing out shoppers at a pepped-up rate is a “risky move” in an industry with “razor-thin” (1.8 per cent in 2007-2008) profit margins already.

Instead, keeping customers waiting appears to be in your grocer’s best interests. Not only do they want you to impulse buy Kit Kats and magazine stories about Kate’s beastiality accusations of Jon or whatever, as far as their bottom line is concerned, they need you to.

In any case, grandiose conspiracy charges aside, I think the customer should influence the final say on this one.

So, which is it? Would you prefer the single-line system or the traditional, multiple-lines-for-multiple-cashiers setup at your grocery store?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...