If you’re running a business, it can be gratifying to watch customers lining up to pay. Healthy queues can be a sign of robust revenues and a growing bottom line. (At any rate they’re preferable to an empty shop!)
For customers, however, a lineup can signal that it’s time to drop the purchase and go. According to some estimates, consumers spend as long as a year or two of their lives waiting in line1, and most people aren’t eager to lose a second more of their precious time.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that customers hate waiting, and failing to appreciate the depth of the public’s impatience could be costing retailers millions (or even billions) of dollars each year2. A recent survey commissioned by Interac found more than half of Canadians avoid entering stores if there is a long line to pay, and three quarters have stepped away from an in-store purchase because of a long checkout line.
Yet there are some businesses that contend with lineups as a fact of life. How do they manage?
Aleem Syed is the owner of The Holy Grill, a food truck in Toronto that specializes in halal burgers, fried chicken and poutine. Syed says lineups are a mixed blessing in the food-truck business.
On one hand, Syed explains, a queue at your window is a sign to potential new customers that people consider your food tasty enough to be worth lining up for — so it’s nice to have at least a short lineup.
On the other hand, you don’t want a long lineup to discourage people from placing an order in the first place.
To manage this dilemma, Syed says, keep your point-of-sale from becoming a bottleneck. “We like to keep things as organized as we can in the food truck,” he says, and that includes having the payment terminal in a spot where customers can easily see it and reach it. That allows people to pay and go quickly once their food arrives.
For a growing business, the positive benefits of an efficient queuing system are simple to explain: “The quicker we move a lineup, the more customers we serve, the more money we make,” Syed says.
As for processing transactions quickly to keep that line moving, Syed says he encourages customers to use Interac Flash because it enables The Holy Grill to offer an easy, speedy payment moment.
“Interac Flash is seamless and it’s convenient for customers,” he says. “It’s quick and it keeps the line moving.”
That’s just one way to keep the turnover quick and the customers happy. And Syed isn’t the only one who thinks so.
Here are some other smart ways that retail experts recommend for dealing with the inevitability of lineups:
Offer a serpentine line: A business can offer one queue per cashier, or it can direct all customers to stand in a single lineup and wait for the next available cashier. It’s a consequential choice from the customer’s point of view, and there are several reasons to favour the “one lineup” rule.
First, a single line decreases customers’ anxiety — it takes away the pressure to decide which one “looks the fastest.”
Second, a single, snaking queue reduces the number of employees required to serve the same number of customers.
Third, customers can perceive a combined lineup as “fairer.”3 In a multiple-queue system, the amount of time you wait is largely based on luck (and who you get stuck behind). In a single-queue system, customers get served in order in which they arrive.
Distract and entertain: There’s a famous anecdote4 about mirrors among scholars who study the psychology of waiting. A famous hotel group received complaints about the slow service of its elevators. There was no way to speed them up, but someone suggested installing mirrors next to them.
The complaints reportedly stopped. Hotel visitors could use the wait time to check their appearances, so they didn’t mind waiting.
In other words, it’s worthwhile to think about ways that customers can be entertained or occupied while they wait. An array of eye-catching impulse purchases would be one example.
Set expectations (and then try to exceed them): People don’t mind waiting as much when they receive fair warning, so consider letting customers know how long they can expect to line up. When it comes to wait times, honesty really is the best policy.