The Express Lane

I’m getting pretty good at this whole shopping thing. Most Saturday nights, Kim gives me a list of items which always include:

  1. Diet Coke 24 Pack
  2. Whole grain Bread
  3. Dannon Yogurt

I can find those three items without having to asking a store employee or use a life line. From here things get a little dicey. I have trouble with small stuff like spices and canned seasonal items like pumpkin and cranberry sauce. Around the holidays, stores like to group similar items together on an end-cap making it easier to find all the ingredients for say, pumpkin pies.

The last thing I need is to feel like I’m doing my grocery shopping at Costco which frustrates me to no end by playing the shell game with their products. Next time you’re as Costco ask any employee where to find the syrup and watch them point towards the tire section. Even they don’t know.  shoppingbasket

But I’m getting to the point where I’ll return home with at least 75% of the items on Kim’s list. That’s not bad. And I make up for those items I couldn’t find by adding my own items that include magazines, Slim Jims and ranch flavored sunflower seeds.

Yet I’m still confused by the About 12 Items or Less lines. Trying to determine the meaning of “about” reminds me of Bill Clinton during his Lewinsky testimony when he said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Does it mean a firm 12 items plus some gum and Tic Tacs? Does it mean 14 or 15 items? Do my 12 jars of baby food count as 12 items or one? What if I’m buying items that are easy to scan like cans of chili compared to exotic produce (the pomegranate or mango) that slows even the experienced checker?

I’ve come up with my own interpretation of “about” which I’ve successfully implemented the past couple of trips. It’s simple:

Whatever I can cram into a basket.

If I can stash a dozen oranges, four Odwalla Blueberry B Monster drinks, and 15 jars of baby food, then save me a place in the Express Line because I’m coming through!

But if my trip to the store requires a wobbly wheeled cart, I’ll stand in line behind the family replenishing their food storage.

It only seems fair.

6 thoughts on “The Express Lane

  1. Seems like a good way of viewing the rule.

    Personally I have never seen an “about” line before.

    I usually pick the line with the cashier that seems like they are having the best day. I really don’t like the grumpy “I wish I had a better job” cashiers.


  2. There is definitely some ambiguity. Sometimes I look at people in line in the “X items or less” aisle and they clearly have more than X items. My ex was a checker for Safeway and it bugged her if people came through with more than the limit. But to your point, it’s not clear what that limit means, whether it says “about” or not…

    Why not literally just saw “1 basket’s worth?” — that is 100% clear no matter how you slice it (and if you are hand-carrying stuff, it’s unlikely it wouldn’t all fit into a basket)…


  3. 12 Items Or Less is their best approximate unit for checkout time, which is harder for individuals to estimate. It’s the express line, so they want to minimize the amount of time each customer spends checking out.

    The bigger factor to consider is if any items are high time cost, in my opinion. Items that need to be weighed, items that need to be counted and then entered by number instead of scanned, and items that require ID (ability to buy alcohol at the grocery store varies by state and location, of course) are all potential sources for delay even if you’re under the posted item limit.

    I use the robot checkouts at my grocery store, and I also talk to people who have far too many items or aren’t fast at using the machine (I usually have <5 items, to fit in my bike panniers, and I’m fast at using the machines).


  4. Christine Lavin has a sort of funny folk song about this you should look up.

    That’s a great standard: Fits in basket, it’s going in.

    Our everyday items:

    1. Diet Coke, depending on phase.
    2. Whole grain bread.
    3. Soy milk.

    Every few days:

    4. Eggs.
    5. Sushi.


  5. Wow. I never send Lance to the grocery store unless it’s an emergency. He can’t even find the butter in our fridge, let alone a long list of goodies at the store.

    I think you may be a line cheater–I personally know the basket can fit WAY more than 12 or 15 items…but if it’s not super busy, you’re probably okay.

    Glad to see everyone also exists on Diet Coke like we do!


    1. @Kaari
      Knowing Lance I have no problem believing he can barely find the butter in the fridge. I miss his sense of humor. He’s easily one of the coolest people I know.


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