Waiting On Line

Very often, norms and customs arise for good reason.  They tend to provide an efficient solution to a problem. Waiting on line (as we New Yorkers say…an interesting topic in its own right) provides order in an otherwise chaotic situation. But there are some instances where customs are downright inefficient and we get stuck in a less than optimal equilibrium.

While queuing up may be efficient, waiting on separate lines for separate registers (or separate anything, for that matter) is definitely not.  A slow cashier (THINK: Target Lady) or another customer with a larger number of items may hold up customers.  It is clearly better for customers—overall—to have one line that feeds into every register so all customers are treated as equally as possible and not slowed down by a particularly sluggish line.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule in the US.

On the contrary, it is pretty much the rule in England with stores employing such a single line system without opposition.  Why the difference between the two countries?

For whatever reason, the English have less of an aversion to queuing (the English do not know what a “line” is but they sure do know how to queue). In fact, if you’ve ever been to England you could understand the possible legitimacy of an argument that the English actually like waiting in line. The reason most grocery stores and shops don’t switch to a single line in the US seems clear enough to me: they are scared that the long line will dissuade customers from shopping at their store (or at least, cause customers to complain).  This “cost” or negative aspect of switching to a single line is reduced when the aversion to waiting in a long line is reduced. Hence, it is less “costly” for an English store to switch to the single line and English customers reap the benefits.

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