What might seem like an obscure topic is actually one in which we are all affected: The Science of Lines.
Reflect for a minute: We wait at the retail checkout line – in all stores in which we buy stuff. In retail, the congestion is worse at the end of year holidays. A line at an amusement park is likely busy during the Summer months. So on and so forth.
So, how does a customer experience waiting and what is the effect of waiting on commerce and buying?
In general, once a wait last longer than 3 minutes, the perceived wait time multiplies with each passing minute. Shoppers who actually waited five minutes reported having waited twice as long. This is the Psychology of Queueing.
If customers have to wait, why not make it a revenue opportunity. That’s exactly what most of us experience at the retail checkout line. Need a chap stick? What about that stuffed animal you never would have thought of buying, but are now thinking about it while you have to wait in line. Oh, wait, what about those batteries you don’t need for anything – yeah, just buy some just in case.
That’s what retailers are capitalizing on: if you have to wait, then make the wait feel less so and make it a revenue opportunity.
If a line is short, it’s probably because of a customer or other circumstances that is making the ability to serve take longer. For example, today I was at Sam’s Club where I was in position #4 from the checkout. The customer at the checkout counter was arguing about something, making the line longer. So what happened? Customers on my line left to other lines that were perceived to move faster – not necessarily shorter lines, but lines that were perceived to have higher velocity.
Balking is technically the state wherin a person who would otherwise have entered a line, decides not to enter it. This is typically a customer who is about to enter a line and surveys the available lines. They consider the wait time, look down at what they’re buying, does a cost or benefit analysis on waiting versus the benefit of buying your items. Sometimes, the customer will put down their items and just leave the store, concluding that waiting isn’t worth it.
The technical definition of Reneging in the context of Waiting Lines is when a person enters a line, then leaves it before being served. This is similar to Balking, but where the customer has chosen a line, but then leaves it after they do the cost and benefit analysis in their mind on whether the wait is worth it.
Below is a nice infographic on the Science of Waiting Lines 1
- http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052970204770404577082933921432686-lMyQjAxMTAxMDAwODEwNDgyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email ↩