You might not have heard of virtual waiting rooms, but you’ve almost certainly been in one. Virtual waiting rooms empower the world’s biggest businesses—from Ticketmaster to Cathay Pacific to Snipes to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government—to deliver on their busiest days. But what are virtual waiting rooms? How do they work? And why do major businesses and organizations use them? Discover everything you need to know about virtual waiting rooms in this definitive guide.
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A virtual waiting room is a cloud-based solution used by businesses and organizations to control online traffic to their websites or mobile apps. It prevents website crashes and ensures fairness in high demand situations like ticket onsales, sneaker drops, and government registrations.
Most people experience virtual waiting rooms as a digital queue. You’ll visit Ticketmaster to get the latest tickets to an event, or Snipes to get some hyped sneakers, or your country’s tax site to file your returns, and you’ll find yourself on a waiting page like the one below.
On this page, you’ll see your position in line and your estimated wait time. You can watch the progress bar as you wait or use the email notification feature to get notified when it’s your turn.
When it’s your turn, you’ll be throttled to the webpage or app you were trying to access.
You can watch the typical user experience of a visitor in a virtual waiting room in the video below.
Just like a physical queue, a virtual waiting room is a virtual queue that helps businesses and organizations manage traffic. Managing traffic to websites is important because, just like real-world stores, the experience on the website is improved by limiting the number of people on there at once.
If you’ve seen or taken part in Black Friday sales, you know that a store with too many people in it becomes cramped. People fight over products and push others out of their way. Staff are too busy to assist customers or restock shelves.
Something similar happens when too many people access a website. Some common issues websites and apps suffer due to high traffic include:
- Servers become overloaded causing slowdowns and/or crashes.
- Databases become overloaded causing errors in inventory availability and overselling.
- Third-party features like payment gateways become overloaded causing failed payments and errors at checkout.
- Other bottlenecks in the user journey, such as search features or “recommended for you” displays, become overwhelmed and fail.
- As online visitors scramble to get limited-inventory products, tickets, or registrations, the visitors with the fastest internet access or workarounds like bots get an unfair advantage.
An overloaded website is like a store where the front doors haphazardly lock and unlock, the lights flicker on and off, people push past each other to get products, cashiers can’t do their job, and products on the shelves disappear and reappear at random.
A virtual waiting room, like a physical queue, prevents this mess. It keeps the number of people on a site or app at the exact level where a website can perform optimally.
Virtual waiting rooms work by automatically redirecting visitors to a waiting room when they perform an action the business wants to manage. This could be accessing the site, accessing a specific landing page, proceeding to checkout, or accessing any other parts of the site that need protection against traffic.
In the waiting room, visitors get a position in the queue. Then, when it’s their turn, they’re automatically throttled back to the site with their unique Queue token which allows them to browse the website without restriction.
While waiting rooms are often customized both in style and in URL to look like the original site, the visitors in them are hosted on the virtual waiting room provider’s servers. This means no strain is placed on the target website’s servers while visitors wait for access.
Virtual waiting room providers typically have huge amounts of server capacity available to them, but also benefit from holding visitors on a page where they can’t perform complex actions. This means they can comfortably hold just about as many visitors as you want to throw at them.
Queue-it’s virtual waiting room solution, for instance, is hosted on robust and highly scalable AWS servers and uses data centers across Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific.
Queue-it has processed over 50 billion site visits across 10 years and averaged over 50 million visitors per day across 2021. So you can be certain your traffic can be handled by the virtual waiting room solution, no matter how big the event you’re planning is.
Virtual waiting rooms can be configured to work in three key ways, depending on the type of event: (1) the scheduled sale or registration, (2) the safety net, or (3) the exclusive or early access sale.
If you’re holding a scheduled sale or registration, for instance, a product drop, a ticket onsale, or a public service registration that becomes available at a specific time, you can use the virtual waiting room as a pre-queue.
In this use case, when early visitors hit the designated page, they’re redirected to a branded page with a timer that counts down until the sale or registration goes live.
When the timer hits zero, all visitors in the pre-queue are randomized, just like a raffle, and are placed into the queue in their randomly assigned order. Visitors who arrive later are added to the back of the queue and proceed to the event in a first-in, first-out order.
Using the virtual waiting room in this way allows you to capture hype before the event and deliver fairness during the event by removing any unfair advantages that might come from people using speedy bots or other malicious tactics.
A virtual waiting room can also be used as a safety net that only activates when a website reaches dangerous levels of traffic. Used in this way, the virtual waiting room guards your site against traffic spikes 24/7. Queue-it customers often call this feature their “insurance policy”.
In this use case, businesses and organizations will establish the traffic levels at which they experience performance issues, and will configure the waiting room to only appear when traffic climbs close to those levels.
This means most visitors will never see the virtual waiting room or need to queue for access, but the site is protected against performance issues, bots, and website crashes nonetheless.
In the example below, the company set their maximum traffic levels to 1,000 new visitors per minute. Visitors in the first 8 minutes of the time span wouldn’t see a virtual waiting room since they’re entering the site below that threshold.
However, at 6:08 p.m., traffic suddenly spikes 4x to over 2,000 visitors per minute. This could be because the brand was mentioned on TV, because they sent out an email to subscribers, or because an influencer posted their product.
Because the site has 24/7 visitor peak protection, this sudden traffic spike doesn’t result in a crash, slowdown, or other issue. The waiting room activates when this 1,000-visitor-per-minute threshold is reached, and new visitors are throttled to the waiting room.
Visitors are placed in a first-in, first-out queue, and are throttled back to the site when it’s their turn. New visitors will continue to be redirected to the waiting room until site traffic is back below the 1,000-visitor threshold, then the site returns to normal.
The virtual waiting room can also be used to engage and grow loyal customer base through granting exclusive or early access. This feature is called the invite-only waiting room.
You can run a sale or registration protected by a waiting room that’s accessible only to the people you choose. First you'd segment customers and then you’d send out unique one-time-use links to the invite-only waiting room, or have customers verify their email address when they hit the waiting room page.
The invite-only waiting room enables businesses to deliver smooth and secure exclusive experiences to customers.
It empowers you to incentivize email signups and offer high-level benefits for newsletter subscribers, loyalty program members, and valued customers. Plus, it enables you to deliver exclusivity at scale by ensuring bots and non-members can’t abuse your sales and product drops.
Using an invite-only waiting room, you can:
- Control sales access for true exclusivity.
- Engage & grow your customer base.
- Analyze sale success & customer behavior.
Major brands, universities, and governments use virtual waiting rooms to create a fair, reliable, and seamless online experience, no matter the demand. You'll typically see virtual waiting rooms on websites that have large, sudden traffic peaks that far exceed their usual capacity.
The Ticketmaster waiting room, for example, is used to handle the traffic that comes during massive concert ticket sales. The queue also helps Ticketmaster block ticket bots and ensure fair access for site visitors. Snipes uses a waiting room for the same reasons, but during hyped sneaker drops.
Without waiting rooms, these sites would crash under the traffic. And website crashes cost a lot of money, spoil the customer experience, and can even threaten access to critical services and information.
You can read our blog on the cost of downtime here. But below are just a few of the staggering statistics on the prevalence and costs of downtime:
- The average enterprise experiences 15 IT outages per year, and this number is on the rise.
- Costs are up to 16x higher for companies that have frequent outages and brownouts compared with companies that have fewer instances of downtime.
- 91% of enterprises report downtime costs exceeding $300,000 per hour.
- 77% of consumers leave a site without buying if they encounter an error.
- 60% are unlikely to return to a site later if they encounter an error.
- 65% trust a business less when they experience a website problem.
And while the public sector can face similarly exorbitant costs related to downtime and IT issues—the failures of the Healthcare.gov site launch ballooned the budget from $100 million to over a billion dollars—there can be even more significant costs than just money.
Technical issues and website crashes break down citizen satisfaction and trust, cause negative press, and perpetuate the notion that the public sector can’t keep up with the private sector in its digital transformation:
- Only 18% of citizens believe customer experience is prioritized in government.
- Negative defining moments effect citizen satisfaction four times more than positive defining moments.
- Citizens who are satisfied with digital public services are nine times more likely to trust their government.
In short, businesses and organizations use virtual waiting rooms to prevent downtime and ensure they deliver their visitors a fair and reliable experience.
Now, the technically inclined might be wondering, “Why don’t they just scale up their servers and get more capacity? Why do they need an online waiting room?”
We cover the answer to these questions in-depth in our blogs How High Online Traffic Can Crash Your Site and Autoscaling Explained: Why Scaling your Site is so Hard.
But essentially, the problem is three-fold:
1. Websites are built to perform under their usual amount of load. Building a website that can handle huge traffic peaks that only come a few times a year is like buying a house with 10 extra bedrooms and bathrooms because your family comes to visit sometimes—it’s expensive, impractical, and unnecessary.
Below is an example of when Rakuten France appeared on national news. The news appearances caused an 819% traffic spike. Rakuten used the virtual waiting room solution in this context because their site isn’t built to handle 6,000 visitors per minute—and it doesn’t need to be.
2. Autoscaling is often touted as the solution to handling these traffic peaks. But while autoscaling helps mitigate cloud computing costs and handle changing traffic levels, it doesn’t react fast enough to prevent issues when traffic arrives in large sudden surges.
3. Even if autoscaling could handle these surges, bottlenecks typically move from the frontend to the backend. This means traffic still overloads areas that are difficult or impossible to scale, such as databases, third-party features like payment gateways, and performance-intensive features like dynamic search or a “recommended for you” panel.
"Nobody builds a website to handle hundreds of thousands of people just for a limited amount of time. Throughout the day it’s different, but having that major peak is insane. Queue-it is a great solution that saves the day and it works flawlessly."
Robert Williams, Digital Manager
When customers or citizens use a website or app, they have four core needs. Aaron Walter’s Hierarchy of User Needs sets out that systems should be functional, reliable, usable, and pleasurable—in that order.
When a website crashes, slows down, or suffers errors, this whole hierarchy comes toppling down. That’s why the key benefit of a virtual waiting room is ensuring that those three most foundational needs—functionality, reliability, and usability—are firmly in place, so you can deliver a pleasurable experience to every visitor.
1 in 3 customers will leave a brand they love after one bad experience, and 92% will completely abandon the brand after two or three negative interactions.
"The control [the waiting room] gives to manage technical risks surrounding product launches is awesome. … We managed for the first time to have zero downtime in a major launch and (after we saw everything was working as intended) be totally relaxed during the event itself."
Queue-it’s virtual waiting room also includes many features that go far beyond just preventing a bad user experience, and instead actively facilitate communication, excitement, and fairness for customers:
- You can embed media on the waiting room page to entertain visitors while they wait.
- You can use the communication pane to update customers on inventory and send them messages in real-time.
- You can fully customize the waiting room page to match your brand imagery and style.
- Customers can transfer their position in queue between devices to continue their journey while on the move.
- Customers can set email notification reminders, so they can run errands and do work, confident they’ll be notified when it’s their turn.
- The virtual waiting room is embedded with the tenets of queue psychology, providing detailed wait information, showing users their progress, keeping them occupied, and delivering them a fair experience.
"The biggest benefit is driving the user experience. It’s an amazing tool for driving and connecting to people … It drives a sense of urgency, it opens a communication channel with the customer through the dynamic messaging feature and the queue page itself … This is really amazing for the business, because we can be creative and also communicate better with customers."
Alexandre Branquart, CIO/CTO
A lot of the businesses and organizations that choose to work with Queue-it face a mismatch between supply and demand.
This mismatch is one of the key reasons virtual waiting rooms for tickets are so common—because there simply isn't enough tickets to go around. It's also why companies and organizations face dramatic peaks in the first place: when there’s more demand than supply, people race to get first access. We see this across sneaker and NFT drops, limited-stock sales, vaccination registrations, and housing and university applications.
In all these instances, the people who use bots, have faster internet, or make a living off reselling goods, typically get first access to product.
By using a virtual waiting room, businesses and organizations can prevent unfair behavior. The randomization of queue numbers in the waiting room (when using the pre-queue feature) ensures everyone gets an equal shot at access. Plus, with advanced bot mitigation software built into the product, most bots are blocked from even accessing the target site.
Queue-it and Ticketmaster's waiting room (also known as Ticketmaster Smart Queue), for instance, has blocked over 13 billion bots across 17,000+ events.
Using Queue-it’s Traffic Insights, businesses can not only block bots and abuse, but can also get a deeper understanding of unusual traffic patterns and how to act on them. With Traffic Insights, you can identify suspicious and abnormal traffic such as:
- IP addresses taking many spots in the queue.
- Data Centers making up a large portion of total requests to the waiting room.
- Good bots (such as the Googlebot) ending up in the waiting room.
This data shows businesses the actual types of visitors and requests that are behind the numbers they’re seeing in Google Analytics. It gives them a more accurate reporting of genuine site visitors, and deeper insight into the extent of their bot and abuse problem.
Delivering a fairer experience to customers isn’t just ethical, it also has the important business benefits of building trust and loyalty. Research has found fairness explains 80% of the variance of customer trust in online retailers, and 56% of the variance in customer loyalty.
Researchers Nguyen and Tuan explain that delivering fairness creates a domino effect. Fairness strengthens trust, which builds satisfaction, which creates loyalty, which boosts sales.
They write, “E-vendors should pay more attention to enhancing fairness to create solid anchors [of fairness], because from solid anchors, trust and customer satisfaction will be established, with the domino effects spilling over to customer loyalty.”
"The building of queue and shuffling of customers before entrance to the ticketing system makes sure our customers experience a fair and transparent distribution of tickets, where demand and capacity do not match. We trust the Queue-it system 100%."
The cruel irony of website crashes due to high traffic is they occur when businesses and organizations are at their most visible.
When you’re launching your new product, promoting major Black Friday sales, running a marketing campaign, distributing stimulus checks, releasing tickets for a major artist, there’s massive pressure to deliver on demand and ensure a successful event.
The eyes of the public, the media, key stakeholders, and management are on you and your event. And as anyone who’s worked for a company or organization executing on high demand events knows—this makes them very stressful.
When Andrew Roberts and his team released vaccination records to the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador, they “saw huge amounts of traffic all at once. We had thousands and thousands of people every second trying to come in and get their vaccine records. … The media was posting a bunch of things about the site crashing. Social media was blowing up about it. So, you know, there was a lot of pressure on us that day.”
That’s why capturing control over traffic and getting “peace of mind” is what Queue-it customers say time and time again is the biggest benefit of using a virtual waiting room.
When businesses or organizations use a virtual waiting room for a scheduled event, they have confidence no matter how successful their marketing is, no matter how many people want their new service, product, or ticket—they can handle the demand.
And when used for 24/7 protection, website managers can rest easy, certain that if the unexpected occurs, the waiting room will activate and protect the site.
"It really is a safety net. Especially over our Boxing Day sales where we weren’t at the office, Queue-it just gave us peace of mind, that if anything happens or goes wrong, it’s manageable. … The level of support was really strong. It felt like the team went out of their way to help us. Queue-it is definitely worth its weight in gold."
Jodie Bratchell, Ecommerce & Digital Platforms Administrator
The GO Queue-it Platform also enables businesses and organizations to adjust and control traffic on the fly. This means if they accidentally let too many visitors in, face an unexpected issue, or find an unanticipated bottleneck, they can simply lower the traffic inflow or pause the queue.
In the event something on the backend does go wrong, visitors aren’t booted from the site and left to frantically refresh the page. The queue can simply be paused while the team fixes the issue and visitors can be informed of the delay using the communication pane.
"The peace of mind we get from using Queue-it is outstanding. The best thing is feeling relaxed, not having to worry, knowing that everything will be okay. The virtual waiting room reacts to and controls our traffic instantaneously, and if we need to make any changes, we can easily do it on the spot with the API or the dashboard. The benefit is real, and the ‘sérénite’ is real, too."
Thibaud Simond, Infrastructure Manager
The fourth key reason businesses and organizations use virtual waiting rooms is because of the marketing benefits of leveraging social proof and anticipation psychology through queuing.
Imagine you’re in a new city and see two cafés next to each other, one with a queue to get in and bustling with people, and the other quiet and empty. Which do you assume is better?
If you’re like most people, you assume the busy café is better—even though you know nothing about it except that others are there.
This phenomenon is called social proof, and it’s one of the most powerful marketing tools out there.
Websites that use a virtual waiting room are essentially telling customers their site and/or product is so popular they need to limit access.
Plus, when you use a virtual waiting room, all visitors can see just how many people they’re in line with. Seeing that you’re ahead of 2,000 others in queue has a powerful influence on your likelihood to convert. You know that if you don’t make a purchase, someone else will.
Queues drive up customers’ sense of urgency and fear of missing out. Research has found that the longer people wait in line, the more they are likely to spend. Many Queue-it customers have found exactly this after using the virtual waiting room—seeing a significant increase in conversion rates.
When visitors gather on a pre-queue page, they watch excitedly as the timer ticks down for the event to start. When they’re throttled into the queue, they see their spot in line and how soon they’ll get access.
We often see site visitors post on social media while queuing online, building hype, and giving your sale extra visibility.
And as people queue, their anticipation for the sale or event builds.
This building of anticipation has significant benefits for the customer experience. Dozens of psychological studies have shown the astounding power of anticipation. You can learn more about this research in our article on anticipation psychology, but for the purposes of this blog, a few key findings stand out:
- Positive anticipation creates a greater sense of wellbeing and excitement.
- Positive anticipation increases sensitivity to rewards.
- Positive anticipation strengthens the memory of anticipated events.
These findings mean if brands successfully stir up anticipation, customers are likely to have a stronger sense of wellbeing and excitement for your brand, be more satisfied with the product when they get it, and remember their purchase better afterwards.
"The virtual waiting room made people acknowledge the importance of the event and the way in which it was managed, which generated the desired hype and positive feedback."
Jo Johnson, Senior Digital Marketing Manager
By now you should know everything you need to know about what virtual waiting rooms are and why businesses and organizations use them. As a quick recap:
- A virtual waiting room is a cloud-based solution used by businesses and organizations to control online traffic to their websites or mobile apps.
- Controlling traffic to websites is important because, just like real-world stores, the experience on the website is improved by limiting the number of people on there at once.
- Virtual waiting rooms protect against traffic-related issues like site crashes, slowdowns, and technical errors.
- Virtual waiting rooms work by redirecting traffic from a target page to a waiting room, then throttling that traffic back to the site at a rate the site can handle.
- Major companies and organizations use virtual waiting rooms because website crashes are incredibly costly—to revenue, reputation, and customer loyalty.
- Virtual waiting rooms are used to improve the online experience of customers or citizens, block bots and deliver fairness, give control and peace of mind to website managers, and harness social proof and anticipation psychology.
Queue-it is the market leading virtual waiting room solution, having served over 50 billion users across 172 countries. With a mission to deliver online fairness to all, Queue-it empowers the world’s biggest businesses to perform on their busiest days. When Ticketmaster, Rakuten France, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government need to manage high demand events, they turn to Queue-it.