The art of queuing: Marketing dream or nightmare

Queuing, as the name suggests involves waiting in line, usually to be served. People are faced with queues nearly every day, whether it be waiting in line to order a coffee, lining up at the automatic teller machine or waiting to get into a football match. In these instances queuing usually evokes a negative emotional response, with people often reporting feelings of frustration and boredom whilst waiting in line. But queuing also tells us a lot about consumer behaviour, and can work both for or against a product or brand in a marketing context.

Research has often focused on the negative experiences associated with queuing. Businesses often look at how to reduce queuing in order to avoid the negative consequences experienced by a consumer who has to wait in a line. All of this, in order to improve a customer’s experience and hopefully reduce a customer’s ill feelings towards a product or service.

However queuing is now being embraced as a potentially positive marketing tool.

Across Australia, many premium food outlets now have queues out the door. People are prepared to wait for long periods to be served. But why wait when you may be able to get a similar product two doors up? As we know in marketing, perception is reality.

Lune Croissanteire, a handmade croissant business in Melbourne provides one example of why we wait. Fresh and flaky pastries known for their quality, variety and unique handmade technique, sees customers line up from 5am – 2 and a half hours ahead of the store opening time. Why do we wait? Because businesses with queues have an air of ‘desirability’ and ‘success’. And seeing a line of customers influences the perceived value of a product, as other customers can’t bear to ‘miss out’. According to Koo and Fishbach (2010) the value of a product further increases the more people that line up behind you. In this context, the queue acts as its own successful marketing tool, in that the longer the queue the more desirable the product is and the longer people may be willing to wait.

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Underlying this consumer behaviour is the psychological principle of social desirability, that is people imitating others behaviour or the ‘herd instinct’. According to Katharina Kuehn, director of RDG insights, ‘a crowd will always draw a crowd.’ This works best in a lifestyle or occasion category like waiting for a croissant, not a functional category where a queue can act as a deterrent to customers.

From a marketing perspective then, queues can be seen as a positive experience and the aim should be for businesses to optimise the waiting experience , not minimise the waiting time. This can be achieved by demonstrating to customers the perceived value added by the waiting experience.

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Ways to ensure a positive queuing experience:

Queues as a positive signal

Incorporation of queues into service design so that it is viewed as part of the experience in that the service has already begun while waiting in a queue.

Queues and perception of value

The perceived value of a product will positively affect their perception to wait.

By ensuring the end service is highly valued by the customer (i.e. good quality, unique), the longer the customer will be willing to wait.

Queues like signals

A queue can give a positive signal about the business and be interpreted as a sign of quality and value.

Wimbledon, the grand slam tennis tournament in England, is a good example of where optimising the queuing experience has been taken to a whole new level. Not only do they produce a guide to queuing  for customers but they offer food outlets, music and encourage customers to bring a picnic to enjoy while they wait, encouraging social interaction between customers. Consumers enjoy the experience as much as the tennis! Further, it has been identified that people who wait less than expected are happier than those who wait longer than expected, and that promotional activities while you wait in line helps to reduce perceptions of waiting time. Disney in their theme parks, overestimate waiting times for rides and have cartoon characters mingling with patrons while they wait, so that guests are pleasantly surprised when they get to the front of the queue ‘ahead of schedule’. A clever marketing ploy!

Queuing is an interesting consumer behaviour that if marketed correctly can be viewed as a pleasant and positive experience. Customer satisfaction will be high if the perceived value of queuing matches their expectations of the experience.

Andrea Shone (andshon) 201184022

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