Landing in a fast-moving checkout lane at stores isn’t all about luck. There’s a bit of science behind it as well, and if you know what signs to look for, you can increase your chances of getting in and out of the store faster.
The New York Times interviewed experts on queuing theory — the science behind standing in line — to identify some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to find the fastest checkout line.
Here’s what they came up with:
1. You trust that the express lane will move the fastest
Oftentimes getting behind a shopper with a full cart is smarter than queuing up in an express lane. That’s because greeting customers and exchanging payment information is a huge time suck, taking about 41 seconds on average per customer, according to The Times. Ringing up items takes just three seconds per item, in comparison.
“Think of it this way: One person with 100 items to be rung up will take an average of almost six minutes to process. If you get in a line with four people who each have 20 items, it will take an average of nearly seven minutes,” Times reporter Christopher Mele wrote.
2. You select checkout lanes on the right side of the store
Lines at registers to the right of a store tend to move slower because most people are right-handed and tend to gravitate in that direction as a result, Robert Samuel, the founder of a service that stands in line for people, told The Times.
3. You avoid lines that feed into multiple registers because they look longer
These lines tend to move the fastest. That’s because the mathematical odds are stacked against you when you’re trying to pick the fastest of more than two lines.
4. You select lanes with male cashiers. Women are faster at ringing up items, according to experts interviewed by The Times.