It seems like you NEVER, EVER pick the right check-out line at the grocery store, right? No matter how carefully you strategize, you ALWAYS end up in the slow lane . . . next to some coupon lady or a cashier who can't work the register.
Well . . . it's not your imagination. The people at "Wired" took a look at the phenomenon, and there are three factors that make sure you always get screwed.
1. Grocery stores monitor how many customers there are, and open a specific number of checkout lanes . . . JUST enough to handle the flow. So if there's even a SLIGHT delay in one lane, like a price check, that creates a pile-up and screws everything up.
Why don't they hire more employees? It's a business . . . they only want to pay for as many workers as they have to. And it's not always that busy.
2. The odds are always against you. If there are three lanes open, you've only got a 33% chance of picking the fastest one . . . meaning two out of three times, you'll guess wrong and see other people moving faster. It's not just in your mind.
3. Places like Best Buy and Barnes and Noble use a better system where everyone's in one line, and the first person in line just goes to whichever cashier is open next. And mathematically that IS a faster way to get people out.
But studies have found people don't LIKE that system. We like to feel like WE'RE in control . . . and picking our own lane gives us that feeling.