Line up and face backward

Last week, the Nudge blog pointed out how one airport choice architect redesigned baggage claim to eliminate queuing. In an airport, we all hate standing in line. In a store, outside a sports stadium, at an amusement park, we also hate standing in line. But we do like what we’re going to get when we make it to the front of that line, be it a new tech toy, a set of concert tickets, or a roller coaster ride. We like getting our luggage too, but not as much as that new iPhone. Behavioral researchers, like night club owners, have long known that lines signal value. When lots of people are waiting outside a night club to get in, it sends a message that it must be a hot spot. To whom is that message sent? Not to the people actually standing in line. They already know that, which is why they decided to wait. It sends it to people walking and driving by who can see the line stretch back down the block.

Two marketing researchers, one from the University of Chicago, build this insight in a recently published paper (working paper pdf here), arguing that the value you assign to a product increases as more people line up behind you, and even further when your attention is directed backward. Looking forward just reminds you of the effort (the costs) you have to make to obtain that product. These effects are even stronger when people know little about the product.

How might retailers take advantage of these insights? One long-line that leads into a bank of multiple cash registers, rather than the standard multiple separate lanes for multiple cash registers. In take-a-number situations, announced the current number served and the most recent number taken. For phone waits, announce how the longest wait time, which would be for the person who just called. Use mirrors to show people how far back a line extends. Or, if it’s just you standing in a long line that you’re tired of waiting in, just turn around.

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  • x.

    The link to the working paper seems to be broken.

  • x.

    The link to the working paper seems to be broken.

    • http://www.nudges.org/ Nudge blog

      try it now.

  • Nudge blog

    try it now.