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Standing In Line

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 15, 2012    •    1036 Views

Walking along 56th Street in NYC, maybe a half block before 5th Avenue, I always see people on line. (New Yorkers say on line. Almost everyone else says in line.) They are waiting to enter Abercrombie & Fitch.

Usually we associate an economic cost with a line. Time wasted. Irritation. Inadequate customer service. For Abercrombie, though, it might be a benefit.

Researchers from the University of Chicago Business School concluded that total queue length conveys the value of a product. The longer the line, the better it must be. In addition, they found that the number of people behind you is crucial. If we are ahead of many others, feeling a sense of accomplishment, we attribute more value to our goal. In one example, the researchers actually found that when there are many people behind us, we also tend to spend more.

Amazing. A long line snaking for blocks at an Apple store. And most of us think about the value of the product rather than the long wait.

Our Bottom Line: Queues are all about cost and benefit. If the vendor enables us to perceive a benefit, then a line like the one at Abercrombie can become a competitive strategy.

If you just want to enjoy hearing about lines, this 99% invisible podcast is a pleasure. For a more serious read, here is the U. of Chicago paper.

And a final thought… wasn’t it the lines that brought down communism? But that is a different story.

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