Queueing Theory Can Make Shopping Lines More Efficient
By James Mulroy
Are checkout lines slowing you down this holiday season? With some simple queueing theory stores could could make lines more efficient, saving themselves money, and helping you get out of the stores more quickly so you can go buy more gifts (ahem…I really want those giant microbes…all of them…).
Say you go to ScopeCity, and you’re standing in line waiting to buy that latest observatory (What, you don’t have an observatory in your back yard?). You think to yourself, “I hope this line speeds up; I still need to buy that awesome GeekTech blogger a killer telescope.” And then you may think, “if only there was a way to make this line move faster.”
You might just be in luck! You know that Engineering guy? Yeah, that one. He reveals how “queueing theory,” originally developed by engineers to route phone calls, could be used to improve the efficiency of checkout lines, and furthermore, get you on to buying me that $35,000 telescope. (Please? I’ve been good!)
With the standard multi-lane checkstand setup, people arrive at different times, and either alone or in bunches. This can make it a hassle for managers to know when to put additional staff in checkout lines or when to shut down a checkout line. But with a combined queue–a single line–to multiple checkouts, the line moves three times faster than having a separate line for each cashier. The reason is that when a single line stops due to a slow customer, then the entire line stops. But when you have a combined queue, the line keeps on moving.
With this knowledge the informed shopper can choose to shop at stores with a single queue—and get on to buying me more Geekmas gifts.