It's also, like most metrics, not quite properly aligned. As I've mentioned before, such a misalignment can cause some interesting problems. Perhaps the biggest difference between what this metric actually measures and what it is intended to improve emerges from the timing mechanism. The system does not start timing the customer experience until the first item is scanned and it stops after the payment is entered. This leaves room for a whole lot of sins on either end. Whenever possible, we try to take out all the clothing hangers before scanning the first item, so that time won't count against us. At the other end, I'll bag the trickiest things while the customer enters payment information. These before/after actions are probably in overall service to the goal of a fast checkout experience, but others are not.
It is, for example, in my best interest as cashier, to wait until the customer has placed a few items on the counter before I start scanning. This way I know my process won't be slowed much if the customer gets distracted (last minute gum decisions often lead to a failed time mark without this buffer). However, it's in the customer's best interest (and the overall, unmeasured, speed), if I start immediately. If a customer is paying in cash, it's in my best interests to anticipate what they'll be handing me since the timer stops as soon as the drawer opens. If I'm wrong, though, I have to recalculate change in my head and the overall time (but not the recorded time) goes up more than if I had just waited to see what they would find at the bottom of their purse.
These tricks, despite being partly counter-productive to the stated purpose, don't bother the managers. See, they're graded on how well their cashiers meet the time requirements, so they're the ones who taught me most of these tricks.
That's not to say it's a bad system. Those time losses are relatively minor most of the time. My real frustration with the algorithm is that it has no way to account for the impact of the customers. I get failure marks in places where I should be getting medals for dealing with some of these people. I have no specific stories, or rather I have too many, so I am instead presenting the information as a list of recommendations for how YOU can avoid being one of these customers.
- Take your stuff out of the cart when you get to the lane. The next person does not have cooties.
- If you're carrying a basket, please empty it for me. Placing the full basket on the conveyor doesn't do either of us any favors.
- Use the divider bars provided. That gap you're leaving will just get eaten by the conveyor belt. I'll never see it. The bar does not have this problem.
- On a related note, if two of you arrive together, using the same cart and unloading at the same time, please don't expect me to assume you're paying separately, let alone guess where your stuff ends and hers begins. Seriously, just use the bar.
- If you have your own bags, please give them to me first. It's much easier and much faster than asking me to repack everything I've already put away.
- Finally, get your money out before I finish packing the bags. Even if you don't know the exact amount necessary, at least have the wallet ready. The bigger your purse is, the sooner you need to start looking. This goes double for checks. You already know the name of the store you're paying, so go ahead and get started.