From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New York City Food Retailer Makes Long Queues Pay

Banks do it, that is, queue customers in a single line and direct them individually to a teller or cashier as one becomes available. So do United States post offices. In those settings the system is efficient and reduces queuing time. Now a gourmet supermarket chain in New York City has found a way to make it work ergonomically for food retailers as well.


The move to single queuing at four Whole Foods stores in the Manhattan area found its way into the news pages of The New York Times and several other publications because it is a departure for food retailers. They shy away from anything that produces a long line: customers generally go somewhere else when they spot a queue. In most of the United States the wait in individual lines at each checkout is not long enough to present a problem. In cramped New York City, according to the article, it’s a different story, and shoppers can wait 10 minutes or more before reaching a cashier.


Whole Foods is winning over doubters because it has found ways to make the single long line system work better and faster than the one-line-per-register method of managing customers.  


Whole Foods’ innovations include pairing the single-queue system with what could be the largest number of checkouts at an individual store in the city – more than 30 per store – and with enough cashiers to staff them. The article explains that lines can be 50 deep at Whole Foods’ four stores, but customers move quickly to the checkouts. The Times reporter found that at peak shopping times a line at Whole Foods checked out a person every 4.5 seconds, compared with 19.6 seconds at a rival supermarket.


And queue managers monitor the flow of people at Whole Foods, directing them to a cash register. When needed, they hold up signs saying how long it will take to check out.


A well-functioning single-line system also means that shoppers will never get stuck behind people fishing for the right coin or clipping coupons at the checkout.   


Source: New York Times