In May 2001, I posted an entry on my web site (which was actually a blog before blogs became popular) called “The Rules of the Express Lane” which seemed to attract a fair bit of attention from my friends and family. From the positive response I received, I gathered that everyone had experienced similar creative interpretations of what the Express Lane was for. To this day, the Express Lane still seems to be an irritant for many given our busy lifestyles… and given the glares I have witnessed people give each other, so I thought it might be interesting to dust off that story, update it and post it for your reading pleasure:
In my many years of visiting supermarkets and super-duper-markets, I have noticed that there are two kinds of shoppers:
First you have the “one-time” grocery shoppers. They are usually the ones who shop once every two weeks or more. They are the ones with the largest grocery carts possible, overflowing with edibles, leaving a trail of squished grapes, celery leaves and laundry powder behind them. These are the folks who should have a special cart with a loud beep-beep coming out of it should they need to attempt to U-Turn or back out of a busy aisle.. which they usually have to do a few times, for some reason. By the time they have completed the three-hour excursion through the store, the lettuce has wilted and the frozen food is ready for serving.
Then you have the frequent shoppers like me, who can usually fit everything into a little hand-basket provided I go to the store about three times per week. The fact that I generally buy my fruits and veggies at a produce store accounts for the fact that I don’t need to spend lengthy periods in grocery stores. In fact, there was one time I drove to the supermarket with a short list of 5 items. As I got out of the car, a Savage Garden song started playing on the radio. I ran into the store, picked up my five items, breezed through the Express Lane and got back into the car before the Savage Garden song was over!
The problem is that beyond “8 items or less”, and sometimes “no cheques”, there are few posted rules to the Express Lane, and everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what they are. What’s worse is that there is no enforcement of the basic Express rules, so unless you’re obviously overloading the conveyer belt, rarely will anyone say anything (especially in Canada)… but you may get a few nasty looks from other arm-folded, toe-tapping shoppers. Anyway, here are some scenarios you might recognize:
One item is one item. Two items are two items. When you are buying 3 of one item and 6 of another doesn’t mean you are buying two items, you have 9 items in your cart. Most clerks scan every item individually rather than doing 3X (three times) or 6X (six times) the product scan. Whether they do or don’t, or should or shouldn’t is irrelevant. The fact that the clerk has to move each item across a scanner and into a bag should be a fair point of reference. If you put 36 identical items on the conveyer belt in the Express Lane, would you get looked at strangely? I rest my case.
- Debit card virgins
Even though they have been around for years, debit and credit cards are attracting new users every day. The funny thing is that I often seem to be a magnet for people using their card for the first time in the Express Lane. I admit that I have significantly relaxed my view on the challenges of debit card virgins as we move closer to a cashless society and as more seniors are being encouraged to use debit machines. My advice would be for the banking services industry to have a look at those machines specifically with seniors in mind as clearly the screens and buttons on debit/credit machines are apparently difficult to navigate for some. As our seniors continue to live longer and more active lives, they may have as much of a time crunch as working folks, so let’s do what we can to help whisk them through the Express Lane quickly too.
- The Impulse Buyer
Someone who arrives to the Express Lane with less than 8 items, but upon arrival, starts grabbing at all the “impulse” items hanging around the checkout like candy, chocolate bars, newspapers, magazines, lottery tickets and finishing with an order of 22 items. Self-explanatory.
If someone hits the Express Lane with 8 items and then gives the grocery clerk 8 coupons, by my count the clerk has 16 items to process. One might even consider it 24 items to process given the time required to read each coupon to make sure that it isn’t expired. Can we all agree to count coupons as an item (or even simpler yet – no “extreme couponing” at Express)?
- “They’re separate”
Someone just pulled this one on me about a month ago… Someone in the Express Lane with two orders of 7 items. Seriously?!
- The friend
This is the person with 8 items who is almost ready to pay when a friend magically shows up out of the blue with another few items, who does not go to the back of the line to pay for the items.. the items are magically added to the person checking out. Really?!
- Small coins
Ever since Canada phased out the penny, this has been much less of a problem. However, even though small coins are valid currency, dumping a truckload of change on the express counter will not win a place in anyone’s heart.
- The “Oops I Forgot…”
Have you ever been behind someone who puts all the items on the conveyor belt, the clerk processes them and just as the customer is about to pay, they recall that they forgot something and suddenly the entire grocery store is supposed to come to a grinding halt while they go find it and add it to their order?
- Courtesy counter
I don’t always understand when store management decides to combine the Express Lane with the courtesy counter. I have been at the cash with three or four items, ready to roll, and waited for several minutes while someone returns sour milk, redeems a year’s worth of lottery tickets, purchases a carton of cigarettes, cashes a cheque with not enough ID and returns four cartloads of bottles from a charity bottle drive. The clerk was being very nice in looking over at me and shyly sticking her index finger up and whispering “Be with you in juuuust one second”. All you can do is smile and nod.
At the end of the day, I think people enjoy the Express Lane as a great convenience for getting in and out of the grocery store quickly, especially when they only need a quart of milk or a loaf of bread.
When kindness, awareness and generosity replace self-entitlement, the Express Lane moves very quickly, even if you yield your place in line when someone looks like they should be at home in bed, when someone is carrying a big or bulky grocery item or when someone has an impatient toddler at the end of their arm.
I think we all know deep down, we really shouldn’t have to expand upon the rules of the Express Lane. The only one that is missing is simple: mutual respect.