Check yourself out. At least 60 percent of supermarkets have one or more self-checkout stations to let people scan, bag, and pay for groceries without a cashier. Theoretically, they also let you skip long lines. Fifty-six percent of our survey respondents used self-checkout during the last year, and 67 percent of them said it saved time. But about one-quarter of users complained that the checkout didn’t work properly or that slowpokes held them up. One in five had a tough time figuring out how to operate the scanner and couldn’t find an employee to help.
Kroger and its affiliates (Fred Meyer, Fry’s, and King Soopers, among many others) have another way to get customers out fast. They have installed infrared cameras above entrances, exits, and checkouts that measure the heat radiated by shoppers’ bodies. Higher heat means more customers. Information from the cameras is fed into a database that lets a manager know the number of checkouts that need to be open.
The cameras have reduced average customer waiting time to 26 seconds, Kroger claims. Before they were installed, the typical wait was 4 minutes.
Try a meal to go. That won’t save time in the store, but it will once you’re home. More appealing fare plus consumers’ desire for convenience, healthier options, and affordability help explain why shoppers bought 1.7 billion meals from food retailers in 2012. “It’s like having a restaurant right in your kitchen,” the chef Peter Dow of Harris Teeter said in a video promoting the chain’s Chef Prepared Dinner at Home lineup of ready-to-cook meals. Until now, Dow says, supermarket meals were of “average quality” and designed mainly for a long shelf life. Newer meals involve less processing and come in packaging that’s more attractive and better at keeping food fresh.
If you prefer to do your own cooking, find out how to save time in the kitchen.