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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 14-Oct-11


Friday 14-October-11

Are long queues to pay a good thing?

There's a basic principle in retail that customers have to queue to pay. You have a checkout desk, a set of checkout assistants and space for customers to queue. Just how many checkout assistants you have is a very moot point. More assistants cost more, but too few and customers will abandon the queues and you will lose the sale. In fact there's a whole branch of economics called 'Queuing Theory' with fancy models that determine MMK and other esoterica.

But customers are not that simple and the theory of queuing should take more complex psychology into account.

One principle is of how people value time in comparison with how they value the goods they are buying and with the price they are paying. For a really good discount that they cannot get elsewhere, people will queue for longer, and in more trying situation, such as the mad panics of January sales. At the other end of the spectrum, people who have plenty of money and value their time will go into a high-priced shop where a familiar buying assistant (not 'sales assistant') will help them through the decision and also be the same person to take their money. You can see this in action also at airports, where price-elastic, expense-account business class customers have a special check-in desk with much shorter queues.

As well as time and cost customer experience is an important factor. This is expected at the high end of the market where high margins allow for one-to-one assistance. Yet there is plenty of opportunity at the low end of the market to improve experience and so enable less abandonment and longer queues. A simple example would be to put television screens along the queuing zone. Heck, you could even include adverts for your products -- anything to relieve the boredom of waiting.

Long queues might even be seen as a good thing by some customers. If you go past a restaurant with empty tables to a restaurant next door with people queuing out of the door, you might reasonably assume that the food and ambience were better or the price somewhat lower. In any case, the social proof of others being prepared to queue would make you think twice about which restaurant to visit. Likewise in shopping for clothes, a store with long queues may seem to have something that others do not.

Overall, then, long queues can be good. Just how long before it gets bad is a matter for individual exploration. But if you are a retailer, do pause and think before you desperately hire assistants to keep your queues down.

Your comments

I will queue just to join another queue that in turn brings me back to the first queue. Many a happy Thursday spent.

-- Pruty S

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