The problem with wait lines (US retail)

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

During normal times, wait lines pose a very real threat to the retail sector – even more so during a global pandemic.

Retailers stand to lose money and loyalty from all customers, but most importantly from their higher value customers: higher household income groups and younger demographics (who are growing in their spending power and whose interests will reflect the generations to come).

This is a problem outside of Covid-19 and has been escalated by it.

Revenue lost by wait lines sits at an extortionate $38 billion in potential sales in the US alone, according to a study by electronic locker company, Parcel Pending.

A recent survey of 2,000 US consumers by Qudini has unveiled some interesting insights into why customers hate waiting in lines both during and outside of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The impact wait lines have on customers

Before Covid-19, 47% of consumers admitted to regularly avoiding entering stores or walking out of stores without buying anything because of wait lines: 10% said they did so “often” and 33% said “sometimes”. Millennial and GenZ customers and higher household income groups were most likely to do so.

Not only are retailers losing immediate sales revenues if they have waits for service but they are also losing long-term sales and customer loyalty, because 63% of consumers agreed with the statement “A long waiting experience would make me less likely to return to a retailer” (30% strongly agreeing and 33% somewhat agreeing). Higher household income groups were most likely to agree.

This problem has exacerbated during the pandemic

Half (53%) of consumers said they are even more likely to avoid entering or walkout out of stores without purchasing because of wait lines: 28% said “much more likely” and 25% said “more likely”.

Higher household income groups are almost twice as likely to avoid entering or to walk out of stores without buying something because of wait lines.

Millennial and GenZ consumers are noticeably more likely than Baby Boomers to avoid entering or to walk out of stores without buying something because of wait lines.

Female consumers are noticeably more likely than males to avoid entering or to walk out of stores without buying something because of wait lines.

Why wait lines are a top concern, particularly during Covid

Our September 2020 survey showed that even when stores have been open, a large proportion of customers (64%) have been avoiding stores where possible, with Millennials, women and those from higher income household groups being the most likely to avoid stores. The main reasons for avoiding stores are health concerns and increased online shopping behaviors for 69% and 41% of customers respectively.

Find out more about virtual wait line management software.

How long customers will wait in line

It doesn’t take long before customers walk-out of stores and never return. Overall, 20% of consumers stated they are not prepared to more than 3 minutes within stores, 17% would only wait between 4 and 7 minutes and another 16% will only wait between 8 and 10 minutes.

We also looked at how long consumers were willing to wait in lines by sector. The graph below shows that consumers are willing to wait longer at stores with big ticket items like travel stores, estate agencies and car dealerships alongside grocery stores, opticians, pharmacies and health food stores, while they’re prepared to wait the least amount of time at garden centers, make-up and beauty stores, homeware and furniture retailers and fashion stores.

For more useful insights into the cost of wait lines during Covid-19, click here to download the full survey.

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