Among the biggest complaints about Wal-Mart that the average shopper has is the fact that even at the busiest times the store seems to open only a few of its banks of checkout registers. Ask almost any regular visitor to a Wal-Mart what their biggest beef is and you will get the same response: long lines.
When I arrived in the store I was immediately reminded why I like shopping there instead of a regular grocery store. It's well lit, clean, and the aisles are bigger. In addition, if I'm shopping for food and happen to remember I need a non-food item I don't have to make another trip elsewhere. But as I walked past the long line of checkout lanes, I also remembered why I join the legion of frustration shoppers. Despite the fact it is just after 5:00 PM, a time when Wal-Mart is usually quite busy due to the influx of people stopping by on their way home after a weekday at the job, I noticed more checkout lane lights off than on. The Wal-Mart I visited was a SuperCenter, the kind of store that combines grocery shopping with food, toys and electronics. There are two entrances, one at the end with the food and the other where most of the non-food merchandise is located. I entered through the food entryway and notice right away that that there are five express lanes open. The express lane is ideally meant to speed up the process by which customers get in an out as only those who have less than 20 items are supposed to be allowed. I can't help but notice there are at least three shoppers who have noticeably more than 20 items in their basket. I also cannot fault them; besides the express lanes at grocery end of the aisle, I can count only seven other lanes open all way down to the other hand. I didn't actually count how many total checkout registers this particular Wal-Mart, but after I realized there were at least twice as many closed registers as open ones I got the point.
I came across an article from 2005 that indicated that Wal-Mart was aware of the problem of people having to wait in line. According to the article, they were supposedly considering a technological approach called line rushing technology using a "mobile scanner that allows employees to check out merchandise while customers wait in line. Customers receive a print-out with a bar code, so cashiers only need to scan the paper and take payment" (Abelson). It sounds like a terrific idea. So why haven't I or anyone I know ever seen in action I decided to see if perhaps I'd just missed out on all the fun so I approached a woman who looked particularly disgusted to be waiting in line.
Her name was Hakima and she was one of those who quite obviously had more than twenty items in her cart despite being in the express checkout lane. I explained that I was writing a paper Wal-Mart, specifically on the consumer complaints lodged against the company and without even bringing up the subject she launched into a tirade against the long lines. Hakima told me that she probably had been first in line before at Wal-Mart, but that she couldn't remember it. I asked her how long she perceived to be average wait in a line at Wal-Mart was and she responded, "It seems like a half hour every time, but probably is only ten minutes. That's still a long time, though, when you're standing here looking at all those empty lanes."