Long Lines Can Mean Happy Customers and More Sales
Never has the adage “time is money” been truer than when considering the Black Friday door buster check-out line. Black Friday is associated with longer queues at the check-out registers and customers are willing to wait, at least for a while, to get the latest “it” product or to score a too-good-to-be-true bargain. But, if retailers fail to manage their queue effectively, customers may opt to balk (abandon planned purchases before entering the check-out line) or renege (abandon a queue after waiting in line for a period.) This translates to opportunity for the retailer who can manage the queue to optimize the customer experience and motivate impulse purchases. However, the financial impacts of queue mismanagement can be significant – just a 5% loss of total in-store sales during last year’s Black Friday period due to line balking and reneging, would translate to over $1 Billion in lost sales.
Balancing line abandonment and adding staff.
One solution to longer Black Friday check-out lines is adding additional cashiers. This is only possible when trained personnel, registers and other physical facilities are available. Even when adding staff is a viable option, it increases operating costs.
Balancing the cost of dissatisfied customers who walk away against the decreasing efficiency and increasing costs of adding staff has long been the domain of quantitative economists. Fortunately, industry experts have developed a series of best practices which can be applied logically in most retail situations without the need for such rigorous analysis.
Single line queues reduce reneging and balking and improve efficiency.
Using a single line queue (SLQ) structure in conjunction with highly-effective queue management systems such as the QtracCF electronic queuing system can reduce line abandonment (combined balking and reneging) by as much as 96% and can improve the speed of the queue flow and service time by as much as 30%. Depending on the sophistication of the electronic queue management system, retailers can realize additional benefits. For example, Lavi’s electronic queuing systems provide quantitative data for analysis and improvement of line performance. These systems also incorporate a variety of media into the queue, improving the overall customer experience and driving impulse sales, and margins, significantly upward. When combined with in-line merchandising systems, these queue systems can convert waiting time into extended shopping time reinforced by promotional messaging.
Lavi Industries has extensive experience in implementing both single line and multiple line queuing systems and has a full suite of products to support these systems that can be customized to retail operations. We also offer in-line queue merchandising support that consistently drives improvements in gross sales.
Black Friday queues have a unique consumer psychology.
The psychology of Black Friday queues makes the combination of queue management and in-line merchandising an extremely effective tool for maximizing margins. Much of traditional consumer behavior queue theory holds true for the Black Friday queue, however experts are identifying some behaviors that make the Black Friday customer even more receptive to in-line merchandising and queue optimization.
Most retail consumers are acutely aware of the state of the system - in other words, they know their position in the queue and have a sense for how fast the queue is moving. Customers who are at the back of a line have a larger reneging rate than a customer near the front or facing a shorter line. The longer and slower a queue appears, the more potential customers will walk away from the line. The Black Friday consumer is even more aware of lines. The limited availability and time frame to obtain highly discounted products means shopping at one retailer prevents a consumer from taking advantage of bargains at other stores. An organized, smoothly flowing queue can be a differentiating factor and can dramatically improve the overall brand of the store in the consumer’s mind.
When waiting in a queue, occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time - in other words, the perceived wait time (which is a far more important predictor of overall customer experience than actual wait time) is reduced. When in-line queuing systems educate and entertain consumers they dramatically reduce perceived wait time, especially when combined with in-line shopping opportunities. Statistics show that a combination of in-line promotions and effective in-queue merchandising can bolster impulse sales by as much as 400% in a normal retail environment. Black Friday customers experience a unique adrenaline rush where they are primed for purchases and are feeling under pressure to take full advantage of their shopping time. In 2010, researchers observed 24.3% of Black Friday customers observed were excited, 8.6% displayed territorial aggression, and a full 22.1% of the observed shoppers were grabbing products. These behavioral traits are classic indicators of consumers primed for purchasing.
Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. Electronic queue systems with visible station lights and audible call forward systems allow customers to quickly evaluate the state of the queue. These systems are more efficient than traditional waiting lines because they capture customer attention more rapidly. As a result, the customer also expects, and perceives, a shortened wait time. This is especially true when a single line queue is in place. While the average wait time remains the same or decreases slightly when converting from a multiple queue configuration to a single queue, the actual wait time for each customer varies much more in a multiple-line configuration.
When waits are perceived as unfair, for example one line moving far faster than another, customers become frustrated, and may begin jockeying (changing from one line to another) or even develop queue frustration or queue rage. This is more likely under the Black Friday scenario due to the fact that the lines are longer and a larger percentage of the crowd is already tense, aggressive or excited. This is one of the greatest advantages of a single line queue system over the more traditional multiple server, multiple line model… it is perceived by customers as inherently fairer for all. There are no big winners who get in and out in a fast line, but there are also no big losers, who get trapped in a line with slower movement. Of course, the real winner with a single line queue is the retailer, who experiences less reneging and balking and improves productivity.
Managing the queue properly during the Black Friday shopping period can pay big dividends for retailers in terms of branding. The National Retail Federation encourages retailers to find unique points of differentiation to survive in a challenging economy. We intrinsically associate time with money and helping customers find more of both can be a source of differentiation. For additional insights on how single line queues and electronic queuing systems can help your retail store gain an edge on the competition, call the experts at Lavi. We are ready to help with our knowledge and easy to implement solutions.