3 June 2021

Psychology of Queuing: 4 Facts Every Retailer Should Know

Conventional wisdom in retail says that people Hate standing in queues (hate with a capital H), but is this really true? Anyone who has jumped from queue to queue to find the one advancing just a little bit faster will confirm that this is indeed very much the case. There are facts that every retail store manager would do well to keep in mind when deciding on employee shifts and managing queue lengths, below you’ll find a few that could come in handy.

1.  Signal Attention

The quicker customers get attention while waiting in queues, the better they perceive the overall service

Services are not consumed. Services are experienced. Acknowledgement of the customers waiting in lines can provide reassurance that they are being cared for, and can decrease the perceived time they have spent waiting in the queue. If a customer does not have control (or the perception of control) over their situation in-store, they will leave with a negative perception of both the service they received and the store brand. 

Surprisingly, this is true even if the service itself was satisfactory. An abundance of substitutes will nudge the customer to think twice about their future shopping choices. 

2.  Optimize for End-of-Journey Experience

Disappointing end of an experience is remembered even if the beginning was satisfactory

As any behavioral economist could tell you: a good ending is more important than a good startthis is underlined by the Peak-End Rule, proving that people judge an experience based on how they felt at its most emotionally intense point (peak) and at its end.

Since the shopping experience almost exclusively ends in a queue or by the till, keeping customers satisfied in this final part of their visit is more important than providing quality service during the shopping itself. Moreover, if the end of the visit is suboptimal, the customer is more likely to remember the entire experience as deficient. 

On the contrary, an experience of great service at the end of the visit can offset potential negative experiences during the first part of the visit. 

How can you make the final part of the shopping pleasant? Hire friendly cashiers and  speed up the queues as much as possible. Keep this in mind when scheduling cashier shifts and plan ahead on occasions with increased traffic.

3.  Make it Fast and Predictable

It is more difficult to get back lost trust than it is building it

Let’s face it, people do not want to spend any more time in-store than necessary. 

“City shoppers” – customers who visit their favourite supermarket 3-4 times a week, buying less at once – will prioritize stores they can run through quickly, because the time lost during these quick visits build up even more for them than for traditional visitors. Keep in mind that satisfying city dwellers and their short visits can be beneficial also for those customers who spend longer time in stores. Not only is it important to make the shopping experience flow smoothly but also to remove uncertainty , which in itself is something customers want to avoid. If a customer does know what to expect about their visit, they will avoid it right away.

4.  Let them Breathe

Distance and personal space will stay important in future

Studies indicated that generous amounts of personal space make customers feel less stressed and pressured. “Breathing space” in the queue and the way queues are set up in-store (visualizing the distance that should be kept between the shoppers in the queue, allowing a seamless and predictable checkout experience) increases overall satisfaction with the visit. Additionally, customers have become used to more space over the past year and this might set a positive trend for the future.


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