/ Shopping

Queuing hacks: can you make a queue work for you?

Supermarket queue

Ever had the feeling that you chose the wrong queue in the supermarket?

Does the thought of nearly 13 minutes in a supermarket queue send shivers down your spine? It might summon to mind a vague sense of resentment you’ve felt watching others stroll out of the supermarket and move on with their day while you’re stuck queuing up.

The British are renowned for being excellent at queuing, but being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to spend a lot of time doing it.

When we asked over 7000 shoppers which aspects of supermarket shopping were the most irritating in our supermarket survey, long queues were the biggest bug bear, followed by obstructions in the aisles and items on offer being out of stock.

So we conducted a snapshot investigation in the hopes of finding out some useful information about cutting down queuing time. We sent a brave group of mystery shoppers out to navigate queues in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with one valiant recruit getting stuck in an Asda queue for 12 minutes and 48 seconds!

Queuing tips

Do you choose your queue strategically or just join the first one you come across?

Before starting the research for my magazine article, the most thought I’d put into queuing mainly centred around how much I disliked having to do it.

I’m most likely to find myself in the supermarket when it’s busiest (lunchtime or after work), so while I was interested to see which supermarket would have the quickest queues, I was also keen to learn what I could do to try to cut down queuing time.

We uncovered four key bits of advice:

  • Overall, we found self-service tills were less likely to have a queue in the first place, so it might be worth giving them a go for this reason, if you’ve been avoiding them up until now.
  • Single, or ‘serpentine’ queues don’t necessarily take less time than multiple individual queues, but studies suggest they feel like they do. They also appeal to our sense of fairness – no matter how long the queue takes, you’ll never feel like you’ve picked a bad one.
  • If you are picking between multiple individual queues, transaction times mean it’s a good choice to go for queues with fewer people who have a lot of items rather than many people holding a basket. The supermarket Iceland told us that paying takes approximately the same amount of time as scanning 15 items.
  • Experts suggest we’re more likely to instinctively choose queues on the right, so it makes sense to try to go for a queue on the left if you want to save time. Our shoppers couldn’t spot any pattern at the tills, but they did notice people queuing for one till while others were empty. As simple as it sounds, it’s worth turning off your autopilot and scanning the checkouts to see if any are free.

Let us know what irritates you the most about shopping. Where have you found the worst queues? And, most importantly, can you offer any of your own tips to help others cut down queuing time?

dieseltaylor says:
3 August 2016


I am very concerned that the upshot of this will be more people prosecuted with consequent financial costs for society. Perhaps more importantly why should we be aiding a business who in the pursuit of profit is prepared to have insecure control of their sales items.

I appreciate people should inherently be honest however life is simply not like that. Some people are desperate for for food or drink and have nothing to lose.

Furthermore I would like to see these payment points emblazoned with a sticker congratulating users for adding to the number of unemployed. Society as a whole can pay for them rather than the supermarket. As you may have guessed I never use these self-pay tills.