How to navigate lines at the supermarket
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.”