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How to solve the problem of long lines

Don’t lose two-thirds of your small business by making customers wait in line

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and PayPal, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Every year, Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours waiting in line. This activity might seem straight-forward: you’re in a line, and you’re waiting for the line to move so you can have your turn. But there is actually an entire interdisciplinary academic field of study dedicated to people standing in line: “Queuing Theory” investigates how, when and why lines form, and what can be done about them.

Of course, understanding the science behind queuing up isn’t limited to figuring out which bathroom line at a crowded stadium is shortest or how to navigate your way through bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lines, and the emotions that long ones can create, can explain a lot about how humans think and assess value. That is especially critical for small businesses, as long lines at a store may have far-reaching results on how people think about that business.

Finding the right solution to reduce lines is a worthwhile undertaking since businesses that both streamline queues and improve customer experiences may see long-term benefits to their bottom lines. Let’s take a look at the psychology behind lines, then explore ways to corral your queues and keep happy customers coming through the door.

All Lines Are Not Created Equal

In the 1950s, an office building in New York was plagued with an inefficient system that forced employees to idly wait for an elevator car during the usual work rush hours of arriving in the morning, going to lunch, and leaving at night. The delays were enough for the office workers to complain to building management. Management looked at the elevator’s engineering and replied with a shrug; there was nothing they could do about the long waits.

Nothing, that is, until the building managers turned to a psychologist. He suggested they install mirrors in the elevator lobbies to “occupy those waiting by enabling them to look at themselves and others without appearing to do so.” The unique approach worked. Once the mirrors went up, people stopped complaining. This outside-the-box thinking points to the fact that the problem is how people experience lines, not only their absolute length.

How Queues Make Us Feel

Long queues may indicate that a business has a lot of demand for their services or products. In a 2019 study, researchers found that people are willing to pay more for a product if there’s a long queue as it signals that what they’re waiting for is high quality. It’s why meandering lines for the latest trendy baked good or smartphone have endured: customers know quality when they see it.

But even if what’s at the end of a line might initially seem worth the wait, a negative experience will affect future consumer behavior long-term: almost two-thirds of respondents to a 2020 survey said a long wait would make them less likely to return to a store. And how long might it take before a line starts to feel negative? The same survey found that only 19% of customers would wait more than 15 minutes before leaving the queue altogether, underscoring the importance of reducing lines to retain business.

What does this mean? Business owners need to think tactically about how they do business to shorten waiting times and create a positive customer experience.

The Bottom Line

One solution for small business owners is implementing better technology at the point of sale. Tools like PayPal Zettle are systems that work for your online and in-store business and are mobile, scalable and easy-to-use. Reduce wait times by taking more types of payments quickly and easily, streamline operations and manage inventory efficiently, so business owners focus on the day-to-day of meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

PayPal Zettle uses a central POS hub paired with mobile payment processors to give businesses an all-in-one solution that brings in-store and online worlds together. Seamless checkout just might mean shorter wait times and happier customers, whether they’re picking up fashion must-haves or queuing up for the latest gadget.

Of course, lines will still be with us for, well, a long time. Those billions of hours Americans spend waiting aren’t going away any time soon— but shortening queues is a vital part of any business strategy, and new solutions exist. Don’t get caught keeping your customers waiting.

Learn more about streamlining your business with PayPal Zettle here.

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