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September 18, 2021

Express grocery checkout NOT the fastest lane, study says

If you’ve ever shopped at Price Chopper, you know just how awful their express lane is.

The checkout is always the one backed up like a Taco Bell toilet, and never has such mish-mash collection of tampons, yogurt and weird people congregated in one queue.

But, we still brave the express lane because – well – it’s the express lane. It’s faster than the rest, right?


This will surely spark Who Killed Kennedy?-level debate, but a high school math teacher in California has concluded the express lane isn’t quite the golden goose we’ve made it to be.

Dan Meyer, who took to studying local grocery stores and their cash receipts, found the misconception with express lanes is this: it’s not the number of items that slows a line, it's the number of people.

“The express lane isn’t faster,” he writes. “The manager backed me up on this one. (The express lane) attracts more people holding fewer total items, but as the data shows above, when you add one person to the line, you’re adding 48 extra seconds to the line length … without even considering the items in (that person’s) cart.

“Meanwhile, an extra item only costs you an extra 2.8 seconds. Therefore, you’d rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!”

Whether this data holds weight across all grocery stores is for you to decide, but the observations are fresh, if not backed up by mathematics.

Customers, not items, slow down the checkout process. Meyer goes on to suggest the main reason for this includes pleasantry greetings (“Hi, how are you today? Will you be needing any bags?” ) to the post-scanning payment, which I imagine for many in the express aisle takes about as long as it does to ring through the actual order.

Interesting, no? Food for thought, I thought.

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...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

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...