Terrie finished up her shopping at her local Kmart and headed for the checkout. She was horrified to see that each open checkout had at least dozen customers in line, and the store had no intention of opening any more. When she inquired about making her purchase at the jewelry counter or opening some more registers, she learned exactly how important customers are to this particular store.
This quick video shows how the research by a 19th century German telephone engineer gave us the best checkout line system. As popularized by banks and Whole Foods, that’s the one where one line feeds all the checkout counters instead of people queuing for individual registers. It also goes into why the other lane always seems to be moving faster. It’s not just your perception; in a strange paradox, it is just mathematically more likely that the line you are in is more likely to be moving slower than the others.
Whole Foods in Manhattan has made checkout line races a thing of the past by adopting newfangled bank-style checkout lanes. The new system queues shoppers in a single line, directing them to checkout counters as cashiers become available.
The single-line, bank-style system was quickly chosen for its statistical efficiency. Then, Whole Foods paired the system with possibly the largest number of registers in the city, more than 30 per store, and it hired an army of cashiers to staff them throughout the day (including “floaters” to fill in for those who need a break).