Understanding the psychology of queuing

Research shows that how people feel while waiting matters more than the length of the wait. By leveraging knowledge on the psychology of queuing, you can ensure that your customers' user experience is a positive one. 

Published: 01. Feb 2016
people queuing

“Online queue”

Two simple words that can send an otherwise rational person into an uproar online, possibly surpassed only by having Facebook, Twitter, or Netflix briefly go down. At Queue-it, we’re no strangers to hearing initial complaints and arguments against online queuing, both from our customers and their end-users:

“At Queue-it, we often hear the misconception that applying a queue page to your website is negative: “But my customers would never want to queue, because waiting is a negative experience, so why use Queue-it?” or “My customers need to access my website at all times; it’s a risk to put them in a queue!” – Camilla Ley Valentin, CCO and Co-founder, Queue-it

We’ve written before about the surprising benefits of online queue pages, and explained why queuing is a positive, seamless experience for end-users, but still –what is it about online queues, or queuing in general, that tends to raise our blood pressure?

In his article Understanding the Psychology of Queuing, Perry Kuklin, Director of Marketing and Business Development for Lavi Industries, a leading provider of public guidance and crowd control solutions, including stanchions, in-line merchandising, and electronic queuing, explains that: “For most people, waiting in line feels like a waste of precious time. And the annoyance and boredom that can build in customers who must wait is dangerous for any business. One negative experience in a long line can result in lost customers and a tarnished reputation.”

Queuing can therefore be a bit like playing with fire for businesses that have high demand sales. Thankfully, there is hope, as Kuklin suggests implementing David Maister’s recommendations for a secure queuing strategy from his journal article, The Psychology of Waiting in Lines.

Maister suggests implementing a queue with these six considerations:

1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.

Even if your queue has a purpose, not providing a distraction for waiting end-users can make the wait seem torturous. Queue-it customers can customize their queue page layout and provide marketing and advertising material directly to their end-users accessing the online queue page to inform and engage them, such as with videos, promotional content, graphics, etc.

2. People want to get started.

As Kuklin states, “The start of a transaction is the end of the wait – This can be as simple as filling out paperwork before reaching the counter, looking at a menu while waiting, etc.” So, why not let your customers browse your website or other promotional offers while they wait for a specific campaign? Or, let them peruse the menu while waiting to book a table online?

3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer.

Keeping a one-line queue eliminates negative end-user thoughts if they see another line moving faster than their own, or if they feel they’ve chosen the ‘wrong line’. With Queue-it, you are given a standard one-line queue, or can create multiple queues based on e.g. your VIP customers, which are invitation only and invisible to the standard queue line.

4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.

Keep end-users calm by providing consistent information on waiting time, such as telling them how long their wait will be, what time they will be able to access the online sale, and how many users are in front of them. Communication is key: the difference between successful queuing and failure comes from clear communication with your end-users, to help manage expectations.

5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.

Sometimes your site encounters ‘technical difficulties’, but this broad term can be unnerving for most end-users if it’s all the information they receive. Listing a precise reason for an extended queue helps end-users anticipate and understand why there is a wait, and reduce feelings of confusion and anger that can reflect poorly on your company image. When Queue-it is running, you can add our dynamic communication feature and post messages directly to those waiting in line, boosting transparency for your end-users.

6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.

‘First come, first served’ lines have long been touted as the most fair approach to queuing, and we agree: With Queue-it, a ‘pre-queue’ is established prior to the launch of a high-interest sale, which will pool all end-users accessing the sale prior to when the sale begins (i.e. a sale launch of 10:00 am). Instead of assigning them a number in line because they arrived early (say, at 9:50 am), all end-users accessing the sale prior to the launch time will be allotted a randomized queue number once the sale actually begins. Once the sale has begun, it’s a ‘first come, first served’ queue scenario, with new end-users placed in queue behind those who were already given a queue number. While early-birds don’t benefit from arriving early in any way, and actually it’s only a benefit to arrive to the site exactly on time for the sale launch, this queue strategy does provide a fair chance for all end-users to access your sale. Also, our Known User feature specifically prevents end-users from bypassing the queue.

Kuklin concludes with the psychological truth that: “Research shows how people feel while waiting matters the most; In other words, the experience of waiting is more important than the actual time spent waiting.”

In today’s world of m-commerce, omni-channel experiences and cross-device shopping, end-user journeys and overall experiences are crucial to the success of all transactional websites, and can even be improved by a successful online queuing strategy (would you rather see a website failure message, or wait in an engaging online queue to eventually complete your purchase?).
Don’t fail your end-users; invest in improving your end-user experience and consider how the psychology of queuing can affect the success of your webshop.

Psychology of Queuing Infographic

How does Queue-it apply queue psychology?