Line Management and Social Fairness

Line Management and Social Fairness

CPS QuikLineLines are a very big topic these days.  There are articles every holiday of record numbers of travelers and long lines anticipated through TSA checkpoints at airports. Meanwhile, someone is waiting every day at the DMV or a sports event.

Lines are Critical to Business Everywhere

In comparison, it might seem trivial to talk about lines of 10 or 20 people at a retail store.  Yet, from a retailer’s perspective, lines are anything but small talk.  The retail checkout line is a critical aspect in the “total” shopping experience and, because of balking and reneging possibilities, there’s a possibility that a sale can very well be lost because of a line.

Perry Kuklin, writing in Business2Community, suggests consumers would consider not returning to a location with long or badly managed lines — and would probably tell others about the experience.  And, social media outlets are available everywhere for disappointed consumer stories.

Queuing Theory is Now Considering the Consumer Experience

What’s a retailer to do? There’s actually an established body of knowledge regarding lines — operations management and queueing theory. Queueing theory has been around since the early 1900’s.  However, the focus has transitioned from mathematical theory to shopper experiences.  There are 3 key components to understanding lines and consumers:

  • people get bored while waiting in line;
  • consumers don’t like expecting a short wait and experiencing a long one; 
  • the experience needs to be perceived as fair.

Retailers have added all sorts of ways to combat line boredom.  There are impulse items next to the line, demographics-sensitive music and always-on monitors running video and news. Shoppers tend to mind waiting less when provided with estimated wait lines (think: Disneyland).

Social Fairness and Line Management Systems

However, the biggest line issue (and the most emotion-laden) is the quest for fairness. Dick Larson, a well known queue management theorist, notes there have been incidents of “queue rage” when the concept of social fairness has been breached.

CPS’ QuikLine helps manage the social fairness aspect of consumer line expectations.  Whether implemented with a serpentine line or a series of individual lines, QuikLine requests the next person when a checkout location becomes available (an example of call-forward queueing). It can display results on a monitor, call out an available register and prompt lights to flash. Coupled with impulse items at the checkout stand and great background music, QuikLine will help minimize actual wait time and the emotional impact of waiting for retail consumers. End result: improved customer satisfaction!


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