Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Line It Up

I posted about this subject during the first week of this blog, but the concept still perplexes me.

I was at DR yesterday (where I got my $5 coupon - ssscore!) and immediately became uncomfortable when I saw that the line was snaking down the cereal aisle.

So I purposely took my time getting my bottled water, zone bar, coffee drink....line's still long....plastic forks, trial size purell....jesus, is it even moving...hair ties, another zone bar...alright that's it.

Yeah, the line was unusually long. Even for a Monday morning. Being a dedicated blogger (read: I stir shit up), I marched to the front to survey the hold-up.

I would love to share with you some LOLOldPeople story about how some poor woman was trying to pay with pennies and wooden nickels. Or that we were waiting on change from the manager, who no doubt was 'on a break'.

No my friends. What I witnessed was one long ass line...and two open registers.
Nothing gets me more fired up than stubborn ass people unwilling to take that (life-changing!) risk of forming two separate lines. To DR's credit, there are signs clearly stating "please form a single line at each register." But between lazy customers and aloof cashiers, there's no chance.

So obnoxious Wrathos inquires:"Are you guys in one line or two (stating the obvious, but I refused to believe these idiots were wrecking their chances of getting out of this hell hole faster)?"

No response.

"Because, the sign says you can form two lines..."


So, I sheep over to the back of the line and lemming in line for another 40 cattle minutes.

Here's the question:
Which do you prefer? One line or multiple lines? Statistically speaking, which makes more sense? Is there something you guys know that I don't???

Leave your answer in "Comments," because I'm truly curious.


Anonymous said...

The thing is, once there is just one line that's formed, it's virtually impossible to break it into two without someone getting screwed (unless every other person meticulously gets on one line in the same order that they were already in, which never happens).

In any case, it doesn't seem like two lines vs. one would make much of a difference since all DR cashiers seem to be equally slow.

Anonymous said...

multiple lines!!

Rowen said...

I tend to prefer one line that just goes to the first open register. In multiple lines, I always end up in the one that has the idiot customer who is arguing about a sale or the world's slowest cashier.

Anonymous said...

Having done queueing theory in grad school, with some basic assumptions (that people don't switch lines, etc) average wait time overall is shorter in the one line.

That's cause when the stupid cashier takes 7 minutes to do a price check, in 2 lines everyone there has a 7 minute longer wait. In the one line model, at least people are still rolling through the other lane.

Wow, and that's the first time I've used that info since grad school. Ha.

Anonymous said...

I was in a Duane Reade on 3rd ave several weeks ago when confusion about the line ensued. There was one cashier working with 3 or 4 of us in one line down the aisle and another phantom line perpendicular feeding in from the left. Several customers realized their error and joined the aisle line. An older guy with a Mets cap on merged. As far as I know he might have been there first. I couldn't tell having spent several minutes in the aisle. He went in front of me and frankly I didn't give it much thought. As he approached the counter, the guy behind me started SCREAMING. "I see you, Met's cap. You think just because you're old you don't have to wait. That's right I'm talking to you. How dare you cut the line. I fucking hate that. People are so fucking rude."
The entire store could hear his rant and we all had to give him that I-might-agree-with-you-but-really you're-too-crazy-to-interact-with-so -please-don't-talk-to-me look.

[the palaverist] said...

I agree with the grad student: one line is statistically better. What I find maddening, though, is the nebulous situation when it's not clear whether it's one line or two, and of course the DR cashiers couldn't possibly make any effort to figure this out. So you suddenly get someone saying, "That cashier is open," and then half the line moves, and you end up further back, or maybe the cashier isn't really open, or whatever. Chaos.

Kundan Sen said...

Great post. One line is usually better than multiple lines, as it's a more scalable model - cashiers can open and close and go on a break and return without affecting people adversely. The customers will always get served in the correct order, and a person with a huge number of items will not slow down the one immediately behind.

That said, the worse of the lot of a situation where the 1-vs-many is unclear. If stores want to go to the 1-line paradigm, they have to stick to it - like Whole Foods did in some locations. Leaving people to figure it out results in pure chaos.

Anonymous said...

I'm just amazed that this is a problem at every fuckin' DR. I've never seen a similar problem at any other drug store, etc.

Ya know, if a single line works at the bank (as shitty as it is), it works for me. The one line approach seems the most civilized and fair. What DR needs to do is put greater clarity around whatever approach they want. Clearly this is a problem.

And, perhaps beyond the scope of your blog, Costco can also benefit by a Whole-foods traffic cop.

Anne said...

Great work.