Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Best and Worst Times to Go Grocery Shopping, Proven By Science

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 55 - 10 items or less

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve been conducting an informal study on when the best time is to go grocery shopping. The purpose of this study was to determine exactly when one should go grocery shopping in order to obtain the best combination of fresh produce, smaller crowds, fast service, and cheaper prices.

In order to make this a genuine, science-y study, we decided to make the comparisons between shopping trips as standardized as possible. So for each time period, our crack team of scientists (i.e. they were on crack at the time) went to a series of grocery stores and purchased the same five items at each location:

  1. A gallon of milk
  2. A loaf of bread
  3. A roll of toilet paper
  4. Five red delicious apples
  5. The trashiest news tabloid available

Today, the Punny Money Analytical Institute of Lasers and Mathematics is proud to announce the results of this study. Here is a sample of the results broken down by time of experiment.

Tuesday at 6pm

Tuesday at 6pm was determined to be the worst possible time to enter a grocery store due to a variety of factors. Tuesday evening appeared to be a popular time for homemakers to give cooking dinner from scratch the one-finger salute and instead opt for a trip to the nearby grocery store’s hot food bar.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, our scientists discovered that parking spaces were a rarity—scooped up by rabid soccer moms and agitated businessmen within 2/10ths of a second of becoming available. Three scientists and one Nissan Sentra received minor injuries on one trip during this testing period.

Inside the store was no better; check-out lines often extended back into the shopping aisles, making it difficult to locate and obtain the toilet paper and magazine. However, most fresh items were still relatively fresh, and dishes at the hot food bar were being continuously replenished.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 24 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $15.37
Average Product Quality: Fairly good, though most news tabloids were previously leafed through by customers waiting in long lines.
Pros: Hot foods were freshly made. Several dinnertime meal specials were available.
Cons: That bitch who had 14 items in the 10-item-or-less lane. Who does she think she is?

Thursday at 2pm

Most grocery stores were discovered to be eerily empty at 2pm on any given weekday other than Friday. Our scientists determined that this may be due to people who have real jobs (unlike grocery store scientists) typically are at work at 2pm on a weekday afternoon. The only exception to this rule proved to be people who work at grocery stores, as not only were the stores devoid of most customers, but it was pretty damn hard to find more than one employee in the whole place. This resulted in seven times the normal wait for assistance in locating hard-to-find items.

In some instances, as few as half a dozen customers in a store at 2pm proved to be overwhelming to the lonesome store clerk, sometimes resulting in multiple customers being queued in the only open checkout line for 15 minutes or longer. The typical customer shopping at this time was an 80-year-old woman doing her shopping for the next 5 years and paying by personal check.

At the same time, shopping aisles were easy to navigate, and most fresh items were still fresh from being stocked earlier in the morning. If anything, selecting the trashiest tabloid available was difficult because many new ones had just arrived at the stores only hours earlier.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 26 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.08
Average Product Quality: Decent, though that one old lady must have molested every apple on the stand before deciding to get oranges instead.
Pros: Empty store. Great time and place to have a laser tag fight if you could manage it.
Cons: Most of the store staff was likely in the back room watching soap operas.

Friday at 1am

Just 11 hours after the Thursday afternoon shopping excursion proved enough to produce an entirely different shopping experience. Of the grocery stores involved in this experiment, only two were open this late (24 hours a day, in both cases), so the results only take into account averages from those two stores.

Weekday late-nights proved to be just as futile a venture for those requiring customer assistance as shopping on a weekday afternoon but for entirely different reasons. That’s because late-night grocery stores are typically manned by stoned teenagers. In fact, in one instance, our grocery scientists determined that they could have walked out of the store without paying even after loudly announcing “I am stealing all of the items in my cart” within three feet of several checkout clerks, all of whom were busy gazing pensively into the lasers of their checkout scanners.

There was no such item as “fresh” food at 1am on a weekday night. After all, most stores restock later on in the morning, so pretty much everything had been sitting out for at least 20 hours at that point. Most produce shelves were bare, save for a handful of midget unripened bananas and bruised apples. The only available milk gallons typically expired within the next 3-6 days instead of the usual 10-12 days. And for some inexplicable reason, the toilet paper just wasn’t as soft as it is during the day. For this reason, several more marked-down items were usually available.

Fortunately the shopping aisles were all but deserted, and the stoned teenagers had some sort of pre-programmed, almost robotic ability to scan items twice as fast as normal.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 10 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.97 (or zero, if they’d gone through with it)
Average Product Quality: Miserable. The oranges were, in fact, browns.
Pros: A lightning-fast shopping experience.
Cons: Produce you wouldn’t feed a hobo. Plus, it’s one in the freaking morning and everyone else with any sense is in bed.

Saturday at Noon

This is not the time you want to go grocery shopping for five measly items, our scientists determined. In addition to the normal crowds of weekday evenings, most parents also bring their school-aged children along, and most of these children would have rather been in school than being dragged around looking at candies and toys their parents won’t buy for them.

Checkout lines were always horribly long because the typical customer on a Saturday afternoon is there to buy most of the next week’s groceries. Navigating shopping aisles was like tip-toeing through a mine field of screaming children and other once-a-week shoppers.

Item freshness varied, as some produce appeared to have been restocked that morning while many others would likely sit there unreplenished until Monday morning. Specialty departments, such as Meats or the Bakery, were unmanned. Most of the tabloid magazines were starting to look raggedy.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 27 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.52
Average Product Quality: Varied from good to awful.
Pros: Uh… none really.
Cons: There are a million better things you could be doing with your Saturday afternoon. Everyone’s children misbehave more than your own, especially in grocery stores.

Wednesday at 8am

Bingo. The grocery shopping jackpot.

Specifically Wednesday morning, more than any other weekday morning, proved to be the optimal grocery shopping time. Parking, shopping, and checking out all proved to be quick and simple. Grocery store staff were rested, friendly, and helpful. Most fresh items had been restocked in the previous few hours and were still at their freshest.

Perhaps another point worth noting is that most of the grocery stores examined started their new promotion week on Wednesday, so hitting the store on a Wednesday morning provided the best opportunity to stock up on sale items before they started disappearing from store shelves.

On occasion, the express checkout lanes would fill with people purchasing just one or two items—typically store-brewed coffee and a lunch item for later that day. In these instances, a person with five or more items was sometimes served quicker stepping into a standard checkout lane.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 11 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.12
Average Product Quality: Freshest and best.
Pros: Super-fast shopping time, and items as fresh as can be.
Cons: Most people leave for work at 8am, so this might not be the best time to go shopping for you.


Our scientists also made another shocking discovery during the course of their investigation. According to several of the grocery store tabloids they purchased, Bigfoot seems to have secretly married Keira Knightley in a wedding ceremony atop the Empire State Building. Stay tuned for more developments in this breaking story, just as soon as our scientists get back from the store.

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