2012.33 | Killing Queues Completely

If you haven’t reconsidered your queuing strategy in a while, and even if you have, you should check out this article or the audio podcast on priority queuing by Benjamen Walker.   Many organizations are offering options to pay to avoid waiting and Benjamen discusses the morality and utility of such models, examining amusement parks, toll roads, colleges, airports, retail and banking.

From my perspective, if an organization can find an opportunity to match a benefit like someone’s time to a cost they are willing to pay, that’s a great win.  Where I think caution should be taken is on whether allowing those express queues impacts the underlying customers.

As some of the contacts Benjamen interviews point out, organizations may be  making lines longer or negatively impacting their business in some way by causing a detriment to valuable clients that could result in a long term corporate problem.    The ultimate win is if a consumer can get what they want with NO queue at all and the regular business is positively impacted.

A few examples:

  • Ordering online and shipping to home – customer doesn’t wait in line for what they want, inventory at store may not be impacted, and the line in a store is reduced.
  • Self-checkout – customers that have a small number of items have more lanes available to check out.  While the process of checking out on your own takes longer, the total time in store can be reduced.  Small transactions are removed from the other queues.  As tendering is the longest part of a transaction, the throughput of other queues is increased.

The biggest lesson here is to always think of the larger picture.  Perhaps reducing a line isn’t about charging people for it or adding more lanes.  Perhaps its tackling a way to attack the positive root cause of too many customers wanting your service.  A few ideas I’ve wanted to see in the real world:

  • Starbucks / Coffee Shops – Separate lines for brewed coffee and espresso based drinks and food orders.  I know it would be more difficult to sort this out, but seems like the espresso beverages and food take longer to actually order and then fulfill.  Seems like an express for the brewed coffee might actually keep lines shorter to make everyone happy.
  • Airports – Separate lines for experienced travelers and new travelers.  Why not have specific lines for people who need more help?  As a frequent traveler, I often grit my teeth as I watch my flight time edge closer and those in front of me don’t have their boarding passes, or their passport open, or their customs documentation filled out. They will go no faster or slower, so why not focus on them and provide an option for frequent travellers?  Kiosks have certainly improved this, but there is room for improvement!
  • Drivers License Renewals – I went to the local MTO for my drivers license photo, and while this process has been streamlined incredibly perhaps there is still a chance to remove the wait almost completely.  When I went on a lunchbreak there were 18 people in line in front of me and 10 joined afterward.  Lots of windows are open, but given that all you really need from me is a photo, why not allow the entire transaction to be staged online and have a specific line for photo only?  Allow me to stage the transaction online including my credit card number I want to use to pay.  Give me a barcode to bring.  When at the office, scan my barcode, let me stand there and take the photo.  There was still too much back and forth of slips of paper and cards and receipts.

None of these are ideas flawless and they may be dead wrong.  While there have been some great strides around queuing avoidance (online ordering, online license stickers renewals, mobile boarding passes, serpentine queues), I think it can go further.

I encourage more experimentation around queuing ideas.  I think the public are open to trying out something different.  As a consumer if an organization asks me to try something different to see how it works, I’d be glad to try it.  Why not try some new ideas?  Why not post the results online or in stores?  Let customers know you care about making their wait shorter or non-existent.    Make the goal a complete elimination of waiting, even if that doesn’t seem possible.

It’s all about choice.  Make sure there are options, and perhaps you can make everyone happy.

2011.40 | Impulse, Queueing, Entertainment & Apple Washing

Putting the impulse back into shopping – Loblaw in my local area experimented over the past number of months with no candy and magazine racking at the point of sale in some sites as part of a fixture refresh.  I personally liked the clean lines of the stores with this layout at Loblaw; no clutter, easy to see who is open for customers and which line is best.  It also gave a wide open feel at the front end of the store.  However, sales are more important than clean lines in most people’s books.  At my local store on Monday they re-installed racking with the magazines, gum and candy we all know so well.  Store staff indicated that magazines and candy just weren’t selling in  racks around the corner from the POS.

Single Queue – I’m seeing an increase of impulse fare in my area at other retailers, as some of them are moving towards a single queue.  Walmart escalated this queuing trend here in Canada, and others are also taking this approach.  Michael’s and the various banners of TJX including Winners, and Marshall’s (Style Sense was always this way), have moved to a single queue with a mini-maze of racks stocked with small impulse items on them to tempt you as you wait for a register to come available.    Some of the sites are also using simple queuing tools to indicate open tills to customers.  I am a fan of the approach, as the most equitable plan with flexibility for the site staff.  I no longer feel stiffed when a cashier takes a break and closes a lane when I’ve been waiting in that line.

Washroom Entertainment – In years past, visits to the washroom in restaurants was all business.  The most unusual item I ever experienced was Italian Language tapes over the sound system in the lavatories at some of my favourite Italian restaurants – entertaining and educational.  In a welcome effort to provide a unique experience to visitors, I’ve noticed more and more in the way of cute items in the washrooms of restaurants – funny posters, 2d barcode posters, TV’s over the urinals, ads on urinal pucks and increasingly digital signage.  While  in Montreal this week, I saw something that took that up a notch.  While visiting a very new and slick looking St Hubert Express, the washroom featured projected video of the top of a gravel pool of fish over the sink. While certainly not aimed at my amusement, I definitely see the benefits of this to drive the children to spend some extra time washing their hands.  It’s nice to see someone paying attention to the small details.  I do wonder about the long term viability of such a solution, but time will tell.

Washing Produce – I saw a great solution on line this week for produce.  Adhesive labels  for fruits and vegetables to provide PLU and GS1 Databar codes that turn to soap when they are wetted, so that there is no sticker waste from produce.  Instead, a useful anti-bacterial soap to ensure food safety.  Love the idea.  I expect the focus on apples is due to the fact that many other kinds of produce are often sprayed with water in the store for various reasons – dissolving the stickers in advance of purchase.

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