Check­out se­crets

How to nav­i­gate lines at the su­per­mar­ket

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Zlati Meyer Detroit Free Press

Some su­per­mar­ket chains are try­ing to bring peace to what was sup­posed to be the fastest check­out line by re­lax­ing that dic­ta­to­rial “X items or less” rule and adding the word “about” to signs.

Two big chains, Kroger and Food Lion, say they now have ex­press lanes that now say “about 15 items” and “about 12 items,” re­spec­tively in sev­eral hun­dred stores col­lec­tively.

“Cus­tomers, along with as­so­ci­ates check­ing peo­ple out, were ask­ing, ‘Do you have 15 items or less?’ ” Kroger spokeswoman Rachel Hurst says. “It’s more of a guide­line than be­ing spe­cific . ... We don’t want to turn you down for hav­ing 16 items in­stead of 15.”

There’s some sound busi­ness rea­son­ing at work as well. Su­per­front mar­kets aim to in­crease how much con­sumers buy per visit, so cap­ping how many items shop­pers can put in their bas­kets or carts means those who want an in-and-out trip to the su­per­mar­ket might cur­tail what they buy to be el­i­gi­ble to use an ex­press check­out lane.

Fewer items be­ing sold means less rev­enue for the store. The av­er­age sale per cus­tomer trans­ac­tion is $29.90, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data re­leased by the Food Mar­ket­ing In­sti­tute, a food re­tail trade as­so­ci­a­tion based in Ar­ling­ton, Va.

“If you are lim­it­ing your­self to 15, that means the 16th or 17th item, you’re not buy­ing that on pur­pose,” said Emily Moscato, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of food mar­ket­ing at St. Joseph Univer­sity in Philadel­phia. “Su­per­mar­kets aren’t happy with that. Their goal is to sell you more.”

For con­sumers, ex­press lanes offer what Moscato calls “a per­cep­tion of con­trol.” Shop­pers be­lieve it’s a faster line and ex­pect fewer sur­prises, like some­one in with an over­flow­ing cart.

Charges aren’t just com­ing to the ex­press line. Spar­tanNash, a Michigan-based gro­cery chain, used to man­date a min­i­mum num­ber of items to use the self­check­out area. Now, that limit is gone, spokeswoman Mered­ith Gremel.

But other big chains pre­fer their tra­di­tional ways.

Safe­way’s ex­press lanes are la­beled “12 items or fewer” or “15 items or fewer,” de­pend­ing what ge­o­graphic area they’re in, ac­cord­ing to spokeswoman Teena Massingill. Costco and Aldi don’t have ex­press lanes, the com­pa­nies said.

At the Kroger in Birm­ing­ham, Mich., shop­pers in the new “about 15 items” line didn’t pay much at­ten­tion to the new signs.

Said Amy Em­mett, a dance stu­dio owner, who had ex­actly 15 items: “I al­ways took it as a sug­ges­tion.”

Rick Man­nausa had 20 items. “It’s a great idea,” he said. Be­sides, he added, “I’m an at­tor­ney, who can talk my way out of it.”

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