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What Type of Queuing System Will Benefit Your Business?

by Qtrac

Businesses and other customer-serving organizations may not think much about their queueing systems. After all, if customers are ready to make a purchase, does their experience waiting in line even matter?

Yes, it matters—perhaps more than ever in the pandemic economy. Research has shown that customers will spend 17 percent more for outstanding service, and that 73 percent of customers expect that a company understands their needs. A long, inefficient, exasperating wait achieves neither of these outcomes.

Therefore, a proper queueing system is vital for the customer experience and, ultimately, revenue opportunities. Here are three basic types of queues that today’s organizations use and may be best suited for your business.

Structured Queues
Unstructured Queues
Virtual Queues

Structured Queues

A structured queue usually includes physical barriers that define the line, minimize the ability for people to cut (also known as line jumping), and provide a semblance of order and process for employees servicing the queue. Barriers can range from portable stanchions with retractable belts to permanent structures.

Pros of an Structured Queue

  • Confined traffic: People remain in a designated area, always moving toward their goal, and can’t wander out and disrupt traffic surrounding the queue.
  • Efficiency: One person is served, everyone moves up a place in line, and the process keeps repeating itself. No matter how slow or fast the line goes, the rules are set: Wait for your turn, which will come when you get to the front of the queue.
  • No cuts: Although line jumping still can occur in a structured line, it is more difficult deeper into the queue—at a spot where people who have been patiently waiting get more annoyed when others try to cut.
  • Security: With a tight structured queue, no one gets through without going through a line and being funneled through a checkpoint.
  • Opportunities for impulse purchases: In a retail setting, a structured queue leaves shoppers with no place to go as they wait their turn at a cashier. Lining the queue with merchandise—so-called “impulse purchases”—increases the chance shoppers will pick up extra items along the way.

Cons of a Structured Queue

  • Space: A structured queue takes up valuable square feet. Some spaces are designed for that queue, but others must take away from the retail floor just to function. And although a structured queue is somewhat orderly, people not in it must go around to get to the other side.
  • Appearance: The physical barriers of a structured queue can feel harsh and not in harmony with the surrounding space. Furthermore, dozens, if not hundreds, of people in line will always look like a crowd, no matter how efficiently those people are moving.
  • Fear factor: Long lines can scare people from joining the queue. In an airport line, people accept the wait because they don’t have much of a choice. However, in a retail setting, someone might see the queue, decide it’s not worth their time, and leave the store without making a purchase.
  • Maintenance: If someone spills a large soft drink or vomits while waiting in a structured queue, cleaning that up becomes a challenge because of the difficulties of reaching the mess and diverting people around it. The denser the line, the greater the maintenance challenge.
  • Proximity: Pandemic-conscious patrons don’t want to be crowded on top of each other, even with masks and vaccinations. A structured queue may not be built to facilitate social distancing—and even designating spots to separate people out requires a longer queue and more floor space.

Structured Queues Are Great For …

  • Airport security checkpoints
  • Transportation hubs (e.g., boarding areas, ticket lines)
  • Busy fast food and fast casual restaurants
  • Retail stores with plenty of space and fairly heavy traffic
  • Some amusement park/tourist attractions

Unstructured Queues

In an unstructured queueing system, people simply approach the counter (e.g, at a butcher or a bakery), cashier (e.g., at a smaller retail store), or restroom (e.g, at a stadium or movie theater) when they’re ready, and if someone is already there, they form a line. Human nature takes over to a certain extent on how the line develops and acts as more people join it, and unspoken queue rules kick in … sometimes.

Pros of an Unstructured Queue

  • No physical structures or barriers: Businesses and facilities aren’t cutting into valuable space with queue infrastructure, which often means a cleaner, less crowded look when the line has few or no people in it. An unstructured queue is also easier to clean and maintain.
  • Cost: No stanchions and no barriers mean no up-front costs. Essentially, an unstructured queuing system is free.

Cons of an Unstructured Queue

  • Peak chaos: At busy times, an unstructured queue can become unwieldy. The line may snake in weird directions, and other customers might not know if they should weave through people to the far side or just go around.
  • Line jumping: Without a defined queue, cutting—even inadvertent cutting—occurs more often. This leads to anger and confrontation among people within the queue, with employees often needing to take time to sort out problems and calm everyone down.
  • A lack of order: A common thing you might hear with an unstructured queue is, “Who’s next?” If the line doesn’t form too efficiently, patrons might not even know. A “take a number” dispenser could help, but that makes waiting even more impersonal because you’re telling customers to take a number … and wait.
  • Random crowds: Unstructured queues could lead to more people on top of each than you might get with a structured queue. That hampers social distancing and can make customers feel uneasy—even after the pandemic subsides.
  • Lost customers: Structured queues tend to trap people, which sounds terrible but sometimes reinforces their decision to buy; if they commit to waiting in line, they might as well go through with the purchase. Unstructured queues give people more incentive and means to leave if they want … and if they are waiting a long time, reconsidering their purchase becomes more likely.

Unstructured Queues Are Great For …

  • Small boutique shops
  • Restaurants without much foot traffic
  • Food courts
  • Anyplace where physical barriers would impede the surrounding flow

Virtual Queues

A virtual queuing system combines the order of a structured queue with the freedom of an unstructured queue—and without any sort of actual, physical line. Patrons get a space in line either through a kiosk or their smartphones, then return when their place in the queue comes up. The system sends alerts when patrons are getting close to being served, and additional data can be gathered beforehand so that employees know exactly what customers need when the time comes.

queue management systems avoiding hidden costs ebook cover

Pros of Virtual Queues

  • Customer control: Waits don’t seem so bad when you’re not actually standing in a queue or stuck in a designated waiting area. Customers are free to travel about the store—potentially increasing the odds of them making additional purchases. Furthermore, because the wait doesn’t seem so long (even if it is), patrons come away with a more positive experience.
  • No space required: Except maybe for a few kiosks, virtual queues are truly virtual, allowing stores and facilities to devote space for other needs.
  • Improved efficiency: Virtual queues can actually shorten wait times while empowering employees, who aren’t as anxious about cranky customers in a physical line, to provide better service.
  • Social distancing: With a virtual queue, waiting for your turn doesn’t mean waiting near several others in a confined area. Subsequently, safety-conscious customers feel more confident to give you their business.

Cons of Virtual Queues

  • Cellular service: Smartphone users in some commercial buildings simply don’t get the bars they need to receive alerts instantly. This has gotten better in recent years as businesses recognize that people become annoyed when they can’t get a signal, but for virtual queues, that signal is essential to making the most of the system.
  • Forgot/don’t have a phone: As commonplace as smartphones have become, there are still people who might come into your building without one, either because they don’t own one or because they forgot to bring it. You can’t turn these customers away, so you need a backup plan to serve them.
  • Overkill: As much as customers like a virtual queue, it isn’t always necessary for every business, particularly if you don’t get much foot traffic or don’t have a problem with long/crowded waits. In these cases, a business might be better off with a traditional queueing system strategy.

Virtual Queues Are Great For …

Businesses of all sizes and industries—for example:

  • Enterprises: Amusement parks, ticketed tourist attractions, hospitals
  • Mid-sized businesses: Retail chains, jewelry stores, banks, technology stores
  • Small businesses: Doctor’s offices, restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, ice cream shops, salons
  • Public sector: Colleges, DMVs, city/county clerks

The Customer, Prioritized

Some waits are inevitable, and, for the most part, customers accept that. When the pandemic subsides, they might not even mind a wait that feels “back to normal”—but that excitement won’t last. The customer experience must extend to queues because, if this crisis has shown us anything, it is that consumers have learned how to shop and complete errands from home.

Virtual queues are quickly becoming the customer-centric queue management option for businesses—particularly in retail—looking to improve efficiency and transform the shopping experience. Qtrac is a leader in virtual queues and can help you determine the best option for your organization. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a demo.

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