Waiting in line has been called a “timeless form of torture.” In the U.S. alone, Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year queuing.
And the problem of waiting has only gotten worse. Restarting life as we knew it has proven more challenging than we initially anticipated. Supply chain issues and staffing shortages have thwarted businesses’ ability to deliver excellent customer experiences.
Waiting has actually become more commonplace than before. The issue, however, is that people are becoming far less patient. A 2015 study found that the average human attention span was eight seconds — a full second shorter than that of a goldfish. With digitization taking over virtually every aspect of our lives, that number is likely even lower today. Technology is teaching us to expect instant gratification, but the physical world rarely works that way.
The act of lining up has remained stagnant for centuries. Most establishments still use stanchions, number slips, or regular pen and paper to manage their lines. However, relying on physical queues is bad for business. Studies from the field of Queuing Psychology have found that even an objectively short wait will frustrate consumers, leading to poor experiences that ultimately hurt your brand.
The best way to shorten wait times if you’re using in-person lines is to increase your service capacity, which means either getting a bigger space or hiring more staff, both of which are expensive. Plus, manual queue management is labor intensive, inefficient and inexact.
In a world that’s getting less patient and more digitally centered, embracing a tech-powered solution to queue management is the logical next step in the evolution of brick-and-mortar retail.
The pandemic forced consumers to rely on self-service channels to satisfy their shopping needs, turning people of all ages into “digital-first natives.” With brick-and-mortar on the rebound, merging digital experiences with physical ones simply makes sense.
Innovative companies are turning to virtual queues to solve the problem of long lines and human impatience. Virtual queues replace physical lines, allowing consumers to wait from anywhere and receive status updates and communications via their personal devices. With artificial intelligence-powered tech, virtual queue management platforms automatically reduce wait times, surface operational insights, give people flexibility, and make waiting feel like not waiting at all.
To get a gauge on consumer sentiment on virtual queues and the “torture” of waiting in line, Waitwhile recently surveyed over 1,200 consumers in the U.S. to see how long people are willing to wait and whether a tech revamp of queuing can relieve some of their pain.
Here are some of our findings.
Waiting in Line is Associated With Negative Feelings
We found that physical lines most commonly elicit feelings of apathy, boredom, annoyance or frustration (69 percent), and that if given the choice, almost 70 percent of consumers would rather wait in a virtual line than a physical one.
When asked about where consumers find themselves waiting most frequently in line, retail stores took the No. 1 spot.
Consumers Are More Likely to Leave a Physical Line
Our research uncovered that people are 69 percent more likely to leave a physical line, which is unsurprising given that waiting in physical queues is so closely associated with negative emotions. Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said that they sometimes leave a physical line before it’s their turn. Yet fewer than half of Americans leave virtual lines.
Consumers have little patience when it comes to physical queues. Seventy percent of those surveyed said that they're willing to wait only a maximum of 15 minutes in a physical line for an item or service. Guests between the ages of 18-44 are most likely to leave a physical line before it’s their turn.
Most People Are Willing to Wait Longer in a Virtual Line
More than half of the consumers surveyed said that they would be willing to wait a longer amount of time if they had the option to wait in a virtual line. And the time gained for businesses is significant: nearly 71 percent said that they would be willing to wait an extra 15 minutes or more in a virtual queue.
Virtual queues make consumers happy. With a virtual queue, previously unoccupied time (i.e., standing in a physical line with nothing to do) is turned into occupied time (i.e., customers can do anything they want knowing their spot in line is safe). Studies have shown that occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time, so even with an objectively longer wait time, the wait in a virtual line seems less burdensome.
Giving Consumers What They Want
Physical queues are outdated and, as our research shows, out-of-step with consumer desires. Though the vast majority of consumers prefer virtual queues, they find themselves regularly waiting in physical lines. In today’s competitive retail environment where customer loyalty is fragile, integrating virtual queue management will elevate your customer experience while bringing key efficiencies to your business.
To access all of the findings from Waitwhile’s The State of Waiting in Line (2022) and to grab a free copy of the report, click here.
Christoffer Klemming is the CEO and co-founder of Waitwhile, a queue management platform that helps businesses deliver better waiting experiences for their customers.
Related story: How to Increase Retail Sales in 2022 With Virtual Queuing