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The Science of Waiting (or Tips for Enduring the Point of Sale Line)

Posted by Bryan Mueller on Tue, Jan 06, 2015 @ 10:03 AM

standinginline_dv1954040-SMHave you ever thought about how much time you spend waiting in line? Think of all the restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, retail establishments, amusement parks, concerts, bathrooms and everyone's favorite place to wait, the DMV. In a study conducted by MIT Professor Richard Larson, the average American spends 2 years waiting in line over the course of their lifetime. Of course we’d like the ability to eliminate lines altogether, but we realize that just isn’t feasible. In the immortal words of Lucy Van Pelt, “Charlie Brown, you’ve got the opportunity to be a Hero or a Goat.” You too, have the opportunity to be a hero and give your customers the best experience they’ve ever had in line. Here are a few things to consider when you are in the event planning stage.

1)   Occupied time feels shorter then unoccupied time

  • You’ve heard the phrase, “A watched pot never boils.” The same is true for standing in line. If all you have to do is stand still in a line that feels like it isn’t moving, the only thing reaching a boiling point is your mood.
  • If customers are kept occupied while they wait, preferably with something that benefits or entertains them, they will perceive a wait to be shorter.
  • It’s no coincidence the “tabloids” are front and center at the grocery store checkout. Scanning the covers of those magazines gives your eyes and mind something to keep occupied with instead of watching the line.

2)   Anxiety makes waits seem longer

  • When waiting in line, the obsession is all about getting somewhere sooner… and fretting that someone else will get there before you do. Nobody wants to be in the “Slow Line”.
  • The best way to combat that fear is to begin with just one line and have it feed all the point of sale stations.

3)   Uncertain waits are longer than known ones

  • When the nurse says, “The doctor will see you soon”, it means very little. If the nurse were to say, “The doctor will see you in 20 minutes” now you’ve got something you can lean on.
  • This is a great time to under-promise and over-deliver. Let people know they can expect to be at the front of the line in 25 minutes. When they arrive there in 15 minutes, they’ll be thrilled.

Tips for a successful line experience!

Give them something to do or look at while waiting

  • Digital signage is a fantastic way to both entertain them and promote your company
  • Play uplifting and happy music (know your audience; Frank Sinatra may not entertain the 20-30 year old female demographic)
  • Put up displays along the way – Highlight a new line or product category

Place signage in the line, stating “Expected wait time from this point is “XX” Minutes.

  • Don’t give them false hope, remember under-promise and over-deliver.

Make sure your cashiers are keeping busy

  • All the strategies for “Happy Lines” can be sabotaged if you’ve got cashiers standing around or moving at a snail’s pace.

For more tips on creating a successful event, check out our blog post on The Worst Advice on Event Planning. You can also request more information on how to improve your specific event with the right point of sale technology with the button below.

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