10 Habits of Highly Effective Black Friday Waiting Lines

September 20, 2012Perry Kuklin

Black Friday means high-traffic, high-volume retail settings. If not managed properly, the intense queues can easily get out of control. During the Black Friday weekend (extending from Thursday to Sunday of Thanksgiving), the most successful retailers are those who keep the anxious, overexcited, chomping-at-the-bit customers happy while they’re waiting in line.

What’s the magic formula? It comes down to implementing the core basics of queuing, being prepared to change line configurations at the drop of a hat, and, above all, maintaining control of the retail environment at all times.

Effective Habit #1: Lines are restructured to accommodate more people

Retailers with effective Black Friday waiting lines are prepared ahead of time with a longer-than-usual line configuration and a plan for how the line will wrap around and extend into the retail area as customers line up. The line is prepared with additional stanchions so customers don’t have the opportunity to make up their own offbeat (and uncontrolled) configuration.

Effective Habit #2: The waiting line is a single line queue

The lines may be longer and naturally people will wait longer, but the smartest retailers also plan ahead for a queue configuration that ensures optimal speed of service. A single-line queue is proven to decrease average wait times compared to a multiple-line queue. Plus, the psychology of a single line also helps people tolerate the wait – the first come, first served method feels fair and no one can claim that someone else is getting faster service or preferential treatment. 

Effective Habit #3: Fast deployment is made possible

A register stops working. Someone spills their latte in the middle of the line. Anything can happen on Black Friday and plan-ahead retailers have stanchions, retractable belts, and various types of signage on “stand by” that can be quickly deployed to manage the unexpected and redirect people around the problem while maintaining fairness and efficiency. 

Effective Habit #4: In-line merchandising is used strategically

Retail veterans know how to capitalize on the impulsive, gotta-have-it nature of Black Friday shoppers without overwhelming people who are already firing on all cylinders. In-line merchandising is tempered – it’s available, but it’s not obnoxious. Customers will find impulse merchandising bowls attached to stanchions, clearly marked with description and price. Despite the temptations, retailers avoid too-tall or too-full racks and enough space is available for people to get by and peruse merchandise comfortably without pressure. 

Effective Habit #5: Waiting people are kept busy

While every product under the sun is available en masse on Black Friday, patience is at a low. Wise retailers decrease perceived wait time through digital signage that displays promotions, how-to videos, advertisements, or entertaining media; get customers started on their transaction as soon as possible, even if it’s not quite their turn at the register; and keep waiting patrons occupied with in-line merchandising.

Effective Habit #6: There is a clear clue to queue

The crowds and perceived chaos of a Black Friday retail environment can make it challenging for customers to find the queue come check-out time. Belted stanchions are employed to give the line visibility and post-top signage and banners further enhance the queue, telling customers where to enter or wait. Simple instructions are incredibly effective at relieving an already high-strung shopper and they appreciate the ability to relax in line after the pressure of their shopping experience.

Effective Habit #7: Reinforced barriers are relied upon

With those Black Friday crowds come unintentional (and sometimes intentional) bumping, squeezing by, and even pushing. Wise retailers upgrade stanchions to accommodate heavy crowds from entrance to exit, employing permanent posts that are drilled into the ground or making use of a stronger magnetic base. Whatever method is decided upon for lines outside of a store or queues inside, crowd control barriers are always chosen for their ability to handle crowd flow and their inability to be knocked over or shifted.

Effective Habit #8: Clear instructions and information are provided

It may seem like a queue can manage itself once people are in that line, but on Black Friday savvy retailers know that it’s especially important to stay on top of customers from start to finish. Signage with clear and simple messages identifies in-line merchandising items, the direction the queue is taking, and places to wait or move forward. Retailers know it’s better to make decisions for their crowds than to allow them to come up with their own solutions. 

Effective Habit #9: Safety is paramount

A well-designed queuing strategy keeps Black Friday customers part of orderly, safe lines. Stanchions make the line clear, improve customer flow, and enhance crowd safety. Smart retailers don’t expect patrons to fend for themselves but rather establish clear boundaries and enforce them to help calm the anxious customers and make people feel safe about their place in line and the logical progression of it. 

Effective Habit #10: The exit is part of the queue strategy

The true end of a queue is the exit of the retail store. Pathways are created and continued on from the start of a queue to the register to the front door with helpful stanchions and signage. Customer flow is part of a waiting queue; super-effective retailers use retractable belt stanchions to direct people to the exit and avoid customer traffic jams.  Black Friday may seem predictable, but the only sure thing about this retail extravaganza is its unpredictability. Get ready now for your busiest day in November.

Consult with a Lavi crowd control expert for tips about how to guard your retail environment for crowds and manage those lines before they burst at the seams.

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