They hadn't allowed for the British sheep mentality.
The characteristic became evident yesterday at Tesco stores across north and east London. On the first day of their 'one in front' initiative, almost every checkout in the supermarkets was manned.
Extra staff had been trained, trials carried out and funds diverted to ensure the 'revolutionary new standard of service' in its 450 stores.
The action plan was simple. If more than two people began queueing at a checkout, then another checkout would be opened. If that filled up, another would be staffed, and so on until demand was satisfied.
Everything would have gone smoothly, if the shoppers themselves had co-operated. But they didn't. They kept gravitating towards the busy checkouts as though they somehow expected to have to queue when they went shopping. Some even seemed to enjoy the wait behind a packed trolley. They gossiped, compared shopping, or fell into a comatose daze.
In the Bethnal Green Road Tesco, in east London, a line of 12 manned and empty checkouts stretched across the store. But a housewife buying bread ignored them to wait patiently behind a woman processing her weekly shop.
At Stroud Green Road, in north London, with 11 out of 12 checkouts manned, the same occurred. Queues built up, but only because shoppers refused to use the free checkouts.
It was a different story at Sainsbury's, Tesco's main rival, which claimed it had had the same idea. At Islington, north London, there were queues at all 17 checkouts.
Customers also appeared to differ from those at Tesco. 'I hate queueing. I would definitely go to Tesco if I didn't have to queue,' Steven Marks, 24, said. But Christine Cunningham, 19, had the Tesco mentality. 'Queueing doesn't bother me. You get used to it,' she said.
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