Queues are everywhere. At checkout lines in stores. At the airport, to check in to your flight; for security screening; and waiting to board. At ticket office windows. To pick up your keys at the car rental desk. To check in and out at hotels. To find an empty spot at parking lots and parking garages.
Most people, hurried and short of time, regard queuing or standing in lines as an unwelcome waste of time. This perception has clear business implications, as potential customers simply leave, and potential business transactions evaporate. This is the fundamental reason why, reducing or eliminating queues should be a top concern for any customer-centric business.
Granted, in some cases savvy merchants take advantage of people spending time in lines, and feed information to captive audiences hungry for any meaningful distraction. That’s why we are tempted with impulse-shopping items like chewing gum and tabloid magazines at the supermarket checkout lines. But, for the most part, spending time in lines is a downer. Let’s see some examples.
Crowds at the checkout lines
We all know that the customer volumes at supermarkets vary greatly throughout the day and on different days of the week. People come in waves: early morning on weekdays may see an influx of customers stopping by for a coffee and breakfast items on their way to work. There is the lunch crowd, coming in for a sandwich, salad or soup at the delicatessen counter.
The largest tide of customers arrives when people leave work and stop for provisions and dinner items on their way home. Well aware of these trends, and knowing full well that most of these customers are in a rush, retailers lay out their stores to facilitate finding the desired items quickly; they locate coffee shops and ready-to-go food counters close to the doors, and pay special attention to checkout lines. Additional lines open up. Self-checkout lines are introduced. Ordering online (with or without home-delivery) has steadily risen. Pretty soon self-checkout anywhere in the store, using mobile devices will be commonplace.
Retail industry insiders like Envirosell have long reported an occurrence that was not possible to capture by simply tallying sales, or eyeballing the length of the open checkout lines. A significant number of potential customers were walking into the store, quickly gauging line lengths, then making a U-turn out of the store when anticipating a very long wait at the cash-wrap. Or they were limiting their purchase to a few, essential items, so they could be admitted through the fast checkout lanes (10 items or less).
The financial impact to a store of these behaviors may be estimated by measuring its frequency. And that requires measuring people flow through that environment.
Sometimes it seems that going through airports is a series of exercises in waiting. You wait to check in. You wait for the security screening. You wait for your flight to begin boarding. You wait to board. You wait to get off your flight. You wait for your bags.
Airport business managers are frequently assessing whether it is possible to drive more passengers through retail areas to generate additional revenues. Should more resources be deployed to reduce passenger wait times at checkpoints?
The rationale is clear: wait times, though inconvenient to customers, may be beneficial to businesses if these customers spend time shopping at businesses located in the airport terminals. Note that not all waits are equal. Waiting for a flight departure with the freedom to browse and shop is a plus, while waiting at a seemingly never-ending security line is not.
A study by SITA found that the average passenger retail spend at airports declines by 30% when they were tied up for an additional 10 minutes in security lines. Delays are a function of the number of passengers present, check-in technologies in use, and the level of staffing available to assist customers. Measuring the varying parameters clearly makes sense from a purely financial standpoint.
SITA’s study also found that real-time information about disruptions and passenger flows is needed for proactive decision making by operations. In other words, timely passenger flow data is essential.
Just as important: passengers’ frustration levels rise when they are stuck in lines and have no idea about expected wait times. Unsurprisingly, passenger satisfaction goes up as data becomes available. A March 2015 article chronicled the experience at the regional Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Cincinnati, OH, which deployed a system to track and display average wait times by counting passengers’ active Wi-Fi devices per line. The system was able to give passengers vital information to decide which line to join and seize some level of control over their wait time. Bloomberg Business reports that similar systems have been successfully deployed at other airports around the world. In those experiences, when provided with information, passengers act much calmer, and find the overall experience of standing up in queues much less daunting.
The back story
Managing lines to minimize queue times has important financial implications and is achievable. Managing queues requires data to measure passengers’ flow in real time, help pinpoint problem areas and gauge the effectiveness of any solution, operational or technical, deployed to address them.
Affordable while easy to deploy and integrate, these solutions become essential tools for learning and monitoring queues and shared space utilization with direct ROI implications for your business.