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Everything we believed about waiting in line at the grocery store is wrong

What’s the first thing you do when you get to the checkout lines at the supermarket? If you’re like us, you probably scout out the shortest line so you can pay and get out of there as soon as possible. Well, guess what! Sometimes a longer line will get you out faster. What?

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Yeah. The New York Times just came out with a report on how to pick the fastest line at the supermarket, and they’ve totally schooled us. Here are a few counterintuitive learnings we picked up.

1. The express lane isn’t always so express

One shopper with a full cart will get through faster than a few shoppers with just a few items each. That’s because there’s a lot of time involved in transitioning from one shopper to the next.

2. Those single feeder lines really do get you through faster

These are lines all the shoppers wait in, and the person at the head of the line goes to the first available register. It saves you the pressure of picking the right line. So why don’t more stores use them? Because that single, long line looks daunting.

3. Head left

Apparently most people head to the right, so if you go left, you’re likely treading uncharted territory.

Some of the other tips are more predictable. It’s faster to ring up someone with several of the same item than someone with several different items. Older shoppers take longer. Produce takes forever compared to packages. Place all your goods with the bar code facing your cashier. And chatty cashiers are slower than quiet ones. Also, female cashiers seem to ring up customers more quickly.

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The report didn’t mention the latest thing holding us all up in checkout lines: using a card with a chip. Do you swipe or insert? Both? Why does inserting take four times as long? Why haven’t we all burned our chip cards in protest by now?

And it doesn’t mention the new self-checkouts that are everywhere lately. Are you faster at ringing up your own groceries because you’re trying to get out of there, or do you get held up on things like finding codes for fruit and vegetables?

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But when you really think about it, you’re not really waiting in that line that long. I used to shop at a hugely popular food co-op in Brooklyn where the lines would wrap around the entire store. Those lines could take up to 30 minutes. But in the rest of America, where the non-fanatics live, it’s just a few minutes. It just feels like a long time — in fact, we overestimate the wait by 36 percent.

Anyway, we all know how to make that wait go a lot faster: Pick up those trashy magazines before you get into your line. You could be learning a lot about Taylor Swift’s latest vacation in those five or six minutes.

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