Approaching the checkout I can almost feel my heart rate begin to increase. I take off my coat and drape it over the end of the trolley. Overheating would only add to the stress. I unfold my shopping bags and brace myself.

Yes it’s time for the Great Aldi/Lidl High Speed Trolley Filling Face-Off. A weekly event. It’s me against the German Discounters and their relentless drive to reduce queuing times while keeping staff levels just one notch above skeleton.


I don't buy this much wine or cake, honest

For the uninitiated, those who remain touchingly fond of branded groceries and have yet to embrace the unattractively packaged but keenly priced bargains on offer, the checkout set-up at Aldi/Lidl looks a little unusual. It’s Not Like Other Supermarkets.

For a start, the checkout conveyor belt is about three times longer than normal. This means you can, indeed must, deposit an entire trolley load of shopping on the belt before any of it is scanned through. Conversely, the trolley reloading end of the checkout is approximately the size of an A4 page. Before they’ll start scanning, the checkout staff politely but firmly insist that you adopt ‘the position’; narrow end of trolley flush with the end of the checkout, ready to receive.

At this point, the dream scenario for the Aldi/Lidl Project Team With Special Responsibility For Maximising Checkout Throughput Rates would be to dispense with the customer altogether. Ideally, remove him or her to a special holding pen while trolley loading takes place with maximum efficiency. This would leave the task-driven and scarily focused checkout staff free to concentrate on scanning through the maximum number of items per minute. Once scanned, items could be shoved willy nilly along the checkout, allowing them to simply slide off the end and tumble into the waiting trolley.

Instead, annoying customers get in the way, fussing pettily about not wanting their eggs smashed. Feverishly trying to prevent their pillow packed rocket salad from turning into rocket pesto under the crushing weight of the juice cartons. And, worst crime of all, PACKING BAGS AT THE CHECKOUT.

This practice is frowned upon by the German Discounters. Instead, we are invited to ‘take it to the shelf’. Behind the checkouts, a wide shelf has been installed where we are encouraged to park our trollies and bagpack at our leisure once the latest scan-and-load landspeed record breaking attempt has been completed.

Well they can think again, because my time is valuable too. I have stubbornly refused to take it to the shelf. I’m never taking it to the shelf. But I appreciate that speed helps Aldi/Lidl maintain their rock-bottom prices. So I find myself approaching the checkout as if it’s a competitive event. I’m pumped. Psyched. In the zone. Those bags are getting packed without recourse to the shelf.

I’m primed for the first bleep of the scanner. And we’re off. I focus on keeping pace with the furiously scanning checkout person while simultaneously:

  • keeping fragile items intact
  • bagging frozen items together
  • placing heaviest items in my sturdiest bags for life
  • maintaining stress levels at no higher than mild panic
  • resisting the urge to bellow “SLOW DOWN WILL YOU” at the hapless checkout person.

I emerge from this process wild eyed, red faced, yet triumphant. I didn’t take it to the shelf. A tiny victory.


Photo by Ruben Swieringa, Flickr Creative Commons