Opinion: The Taming of the Queue

Hands up if you hate queueing.

The average Brit queues for about 169 hours during their lifetime — the equivalent of five months, two weeks and five days. That’s almost six months, in every adult lifetime spent waiting around for something to happen.

I think the New York Times put it best. ‘The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away. The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis.’ In other words, queuing is bloody boring.

It’s also a massive problem for brands.

Think about it. Where do you queue? You queue in shops, at the bank, at airports, at the O2 Arena. Brands are effectively responsible for us wasting up to six months of our oh-so precious time. For all the lip-service brands pay towards delivering a great customer experience, the queue is often an overlooked afterthought in the customer journey.

If you’re lucky, retailers might hastily line the queue with some brightly coloured tat to distract the eye. That’s no mistake — the tedium of unoccupied time directly impacts our propensity to impulse-buy — earning supermarkets a tidy $5.5bn annually. Or they might offer some kind of numbered system (think the IKEA returns desk) to eliminate the mind-numbing uncertainty of not knowing how long your life will be occupied staring fruitlessly into space. Disney actually overestimates wait times for rides at its parks so that guests are pleasantly surprised when they reach the Magic Kingdom ahead of schedule.

But what else can brands do to help us avoid spending six months of our lives in abject boredom?

Well for a start, they could look to Starbucks. The brand’s latest app update lets commuters preorder from the full menu of over 8,000 options on their way to work. Plus, they get directions and a time estimate as to when the order will be ready so that they can simply walk into the store, grab their caffeine fix, pay through the app and go. Essentially, Starbucks is making queueing obsolete.

And they’re not the only ones. Taco Bell has created a similar system where customers can fully customise their Tex-Mex via a mobile site, select the nearest location and skip the line on collection.

Or perhaps they might take a leaf out of Burger King’s book. In response to popular demand for the iconic Whopper burger, the fast food chain launched an online service where time-poor diners could request a personal assistant to wait in line on their behalf. Since the burger restaurant has only recently re-entered the French market after an 18-year hiatus, long queues are a common sight at its restaurants.

Or if you can’t suss out how to help us avoid queues, brands might at least help to make them a little more entertaining. That’s exactly what the Liseburg Amusement Park in Sweden did. To make queues for its star attraction ‘HELIX’ less dull, the park created a mobile game based on the ride, where you could win VIP fast-track to the front.

To sum up, writing this as I stand patiently in line at Barclays, brands need to step up and give us those six months back — or at the very least, make them a little more fun.

(This article was originally published on contagious.com, 24/3/16).