Do queues really promote equality for customers in-store?

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Consumers form queues because it’s the “fair” thing to do – but in a world of increasingly complex customer journeys, the best thing retailers can do to promote equality in-store is to eliminate queues altogether.

There are a number of proven techniques out there that people use to jump a queue. The “chat and cut” technique, for instance, is where you spark up a conversation with someone in line and then keep that conversation going until you can hold your own place in the queue. Another is the “sorry, sorry, sorry” approach, where you pretend to be in a rush in the hopes that people let you go in front of them.

We all hate waiting in queues. In fact, we spend an average of two to three days a year waiting in line. But younger consumers are displaying considerably less patience when it comes to queuing. According to a survey by TripAdvisor, Generation Z (18-24 year-olds) are more than twice as likely to push in front in a queue than Baby Boomers, and while more than two thirds of Baby Boomers consider queue-jumping to be poor form, just 28% of Gen Zers think the same.

Yet, if we hate queues so much, why do we all put up with them? We dig into the psychology behind queuing in stores, and how retailers can create even more powerful consumer experiences using virtual queuing systems and appointment scheduling software.

Consumers queue because they believe it promotes equality

Consumers only queue because they believe they have to.

Queuing is a social norm that is governed by a series of unspoken rules that promote efficiency and equality, says Professor Nick Haslam from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

“People usually choose to queue because it is fair,” he says. “In fact, queues are places where people are obsessed with fairness, and where cutting in line is seen as a terrible crime that can lead to all sorts of scuffles, fights and frictions.”

“Ultimately, queuing defines a clear relationship between when you arrive and when you receive the service you need. People find that satisfying.”

Queuing is also used to protect consumers from each other by creating an equal playing field, says Professor Haslam.

“It also prevents people who are the loudest, the most devious, the most assertive or the biggest from gaining unfair advantage.”

Any more than one queue and people get stressed

Today’s consumers are tech-savvy, competitive and increasingly fickle, but when it comes to lining up in-store for service, many get overwhelmed when more than one queue gets thrown into the mix.

“If there are parallel queues, people tend to think the other queues are moving faster,” says Professor Haslam. “We’re very, very alert. When you queue, the whole issue of fairness is so salient in your mind that you compare yourself implicitly to the people next to you. And people become quite unhappy if other queues move faster.”

Joost Vles, a specialist in operations management at Buffalo university in New York, says when there are multiple lines, consumers can become anxious, stressed and angry.

“Even if you see a very long line, as long as it’s the only option, you should be pleased,” he says. “You don’t have to guess which line to get in.”

The beauty of having a single line, by contrast, is that any delays “get distributed across the entire system”, says Vles, who also pointed out that lines in a snake-like format create the illusion of constant progress, which helps put consumers at ease.

People queue equally yet services are unequal

While most people might view queuing as the fairest form of waiting, as Apple’s Steve Jobs once pointed out, it’s not up to the consumer to tell retailers what they want.

Stores are becoming increasingly complex, with many retailers offering a variety of in-person services, and with omni-channel offering bringing consumers into store to collect online orders or redeem on personalized offers – a one line fits all approach is no longer appropriate.

Optical retail chain, Specsavers, for instance, has a range of in-store customer journeys. Customers entering a store could be there for audiology support, glaucoma support, general eye health and even supporting NHS departments with urgent eye care services.

It’s also worth pointing out that not everyone can queue – consumers with injuries, the elderly, or those with young children. To give consumers a truly fair service, retailers need to ditch the queues altogether and start treating consumers as individuals.

Instead of asking people to wait in line, many retailers are using a virtual queuing system to create a fairer, transparent and efficient waiting experience. Consumers are given a position in the queue and an estimated wait-time, so they can manage their expectations, and they don’t have to wait in a physical queue, which means they can spend that time doing something else. It also promotes social distancing by reducing the number of people in-store at any one given time. And for retailers with complex customer journeys, they can manage multiple queues to multiple services from the one platform.

Qudini’s queuing apps stops customers from physically waiting in queues.

Another alternative many retailers are using is allowing customers to book a store visit or service in advance with appointment scheduling software. Consumers can select a time-slot to enter a store or receive a service, such as electronic repairs or styling and fashion advice, or to enter a store, and receive notifications and reminder messages throughout the process. This creates a sense of fairness and enables anyone to access a premium experience in which they are personally cared for.

Qudini’s appointment scheduling software allows consumers to easily choose a time to visit your store.\

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