Get in the Queue

Everybody hates lines. But have you ever noticed that lines move faster when there’s more people?

Demand increases speed and productivity. It’s the reason that the Starbucks queue moves faster with ten customers versus three. Busy employees show more urgency when multiple deliveries are on the line.

For mass chains, fewer customers usually means more time in line. Employees pay less attention to customers because they feel like they have all the time in the world to fulfill the order.

But in today’s world of hyper digital connectivity means attention spans are getting shorter and while customers are more easily distracted they’re also getting more impatient. Nowness is an expectation.

Why wait in store when you can shop online and get it in 30 minutes? Time is money and patience permits excuses. The speed of delivery is equally important as the speed of consumption. Why wait for anything when you need to get on with your life?


Blurred Lines

There’s usually a line at the Apple Store. There’s always a line at Georgetown Cupcake. What is it about a line that makes a product more desirable?

I think in the back of our mind we worry about scarce resources although in reality Apple is not going to run out of phones, and more cupcakes will be baked.

We also have a regular tendency to follow the herd. While lines indicate popularity and high demand, they can also be deceiving. A cupcake store can only serve and hold so many people at the same time, probably on purpose. Why expand the store when creating an exaggerated line increases demand?

No one wants to stand in a line. That’s what makes buying movie tickets, a computer, or even food via the the Internet so appealing; you can do it sitting at home. Internet products seem to have infinite shelf life.

The store line is a good business strategy nonetheless, creating demand where it previously may have been nonexistent.


Waiting in line

Photo by Ridham Nagralawala

We’ve all done it, skipped to the shorter line at the airport thinking the process will speed up only to see that the person who stepped in the longer line after us gets through security quicker. “Damn.”  The miscalculation only adds to the already incredible frustration of waiting in line.

Lines are aggravating not only because they impede progress but because they are a  waste of time. Fortunately, the mobile phone is an entertainment and social device, often saving us from boredom. However, the phone merely adds time to the queue.  With more people’s heads down it compounds the line problem further simply because no one is paying attention to what’s in front of them.

The feeling of being in line is what makes New York City incredibly frustrating. There’s never a shortcut through people traffic, only a way to slither in and out of head down mobile obsessed crowds like a snake. New York has a wild pace about it but this pace gets stunted by the millions of inhabitants walking the streets each day.  Lines also get worse in incompetent, careless places.

Standing at the DMV this weekend felt like entering the opening maw of hell. It’s already bad enough there’s an expected wait but the fact that DMV employees move like slow robots with little care for customer service makes it worse.  They know customers are stuck at their mercy. Might as well be a 4-hour prison.

We all know that lines suck and aren’t getting any faster any time soon. The world’s population is exploding, cities are already congested, and addicting Smartphone devices slow the pace down considerably. In fact, I just missed crossing the street because I was publishing this post.

(Post inspired by “Why Waiting in Line Is Torture” in the The New York Times)

They didn’t even have iPhones.