Millennials Are Digital Natives: What This Means for Your Queue

digital natives

In this second post of our three-part blog series about millennials and their impact on retail queue management, we explore digital technology and ways it can be used to enhance the overall shopping experience. Our series was inspired by a piece on Retail Dive by Kelsey Lindsey, which highlights, among other findings, the concept of “digital native”:

“…Pew Research describes millennials as the only generation to have mastered new digital platforms – mobile technology, the internet, and social media – without any adaptation. These technological advancements are so innate within millennials’ lifestyles that retailers must adopt strategies to connect through digital devices in store.”

Beyond maintaining an engaging and intuitive website, there is much more digitally that can and should be done in store – even as it relates to the waiting line.

Combine their digital prowess with the understanding that, although millennials are super-savvy about finding and ordering what they want online, they still turn to brick-and-mortar retailers for immediate gratification. Retailers are wise, then, to look for ways to bring technological expansion in-store and in-queue to continue leveraging both the millennials’ reliance on technology and the brick-and-mortar retailer’s competitive advantage of instant gratification.

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Millennials Are Impatient: Why Your Queue Management Strategy Matters


This, the first in a three-part blog series about millennials and their impact on retail queue management, will focus on the impatient nature of millennials and how retailers can use this as an advantage. This series was inspired by Retail Dive’s piece by Kelsey Lindsey, “It’s the age of the millennial: What that means for retail.” In the article, Ms. Lindsey writes:

“… millennials have unlimited tools to save, using geo-targeted promotions and in-store price comparison apps to cater to their demands to find the right price, now. But this impatience can come as an advantage for retailers, according to Jason Baker, a principal at retail consulting firm Baker Katz based in Houston. Baker predicts that physical stores will maintain a competitive edge over online competitors based solely on their ability to provide millennials what they want, when they want.”

This impatience, the desire of millennials to get a quick fix, underscores the importance of managing checkout lines at retail. Millennials just aren’t willing to wait in a typical checkout line for very long. In order to maintain that competitive edge of providing what they want, right now, retailers need to keep wait times to a minimum.

Long lines inevitably lead to lost sales as millennials weigh their desire to “have it now” with the alternative of waiting a day or two for the item to be shipped from an online retailer. The following strategies can help retailers manage their lines and reduce wait times at checkout.

Tips for Managing Wait Times

First, it’s important to consider wait times from two different angles: the perceived wait, and the actual wait. In other words, think both about what you can do logistically to make the line faster as well as the things you can do to make the line feel like it’s going faster.

The Single Line Queue:
Believe it or not, having only one line is faster. While multiple lines may make it seem like more people are being served and may give the look of efficiency, one line being tended to by multiple service agents is far more productive.

The benefits of a single line appeal to millennials’ need for speed: Wait times are reduced for each person in line; there is a sense of fairness because everyone in line is in the same boat; and the anxiety about choosing the “wrong” line is eliminated because the next person in line simply heads to a service agent as soon as they’re available.

Electronic Call Forward Queuing:
If there is one thing millennials are attracted to, it’s technology. Any business that chooses to implement electronic queuing into their waiting lines will gain some loyalty from a millennial customer who will appreciate seeing information about their wait time displayed on a screen or enjoy being entertained by promotions, commercials, or other digital material.

The visual and audible display alerts customers to open lanes, further eliminating any chance of downtime. Electronic queuing also reduces (perceived) wasted time between transactions – when there is a screen to look at there is always something to do.

Electronic Virtual Queuing:
Eliminating the line altogether is a progressive and smart way to win points with the millennial crowd who have places to be and news feeds to check. Because millennials are so attached to their mobile devices, they’ll welcome the opportunity to wander around unfettered by the confines of a waiting line.

Even better is the ability to register for service online before even setting foot in a place of business. And virtual queuing systems which incorporate text messaging notifications that a person’s turn is imminent will certainly be appreciated by an impatient millennial.

In Line Merchandising:
It is predicted that millennials will account for a 30 percent chunk of total retail sales by 2020. And since a large part of those sales will be bought on impulse, it makes sense to merchandise where you have a captive audience.

In-line merchandising not only adds to the bottom line but, equally important, keeps customers occupied

while they’re waiting in the queue. Being able to continue to shop while standing in line simply makes the wait go faster. Remember: Occupied time is shorter than unoccupied time.

Of course, millennials always have their smartphones and tablets to keep them busy while they wait, which brings us to the topic of the next blog post. Next up: “Millennials Are Digital Natives: What This Means for Your Queue.”

Essential Queuing Terminology

customer flow management

So, you want to talk queuing with the pros? Understanding the terminology used to describe the forces of your company’s waiting line system not only makes you sound impressive, it also comes in handy when analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of your queuing system.

Speaking of queuing system… let’s get right down to it.

A queuing system is generally defined as a flow system in which a commodity moves through one or more channels in order to go from one point to another. When we’re talking about waiting lines, we refer to a queuing system which consists of entry points, the actual waiting lines, service channels, and exit points. A commodity (a.k.a. your customer) enters the system (queue) at the entry point and, if no service channel (cashier or service agent) is immediately available, the commodity is essentially “moved” into a queue. Once a service channel is available, the commodity moves from the waiting line into the service channel, and having received service, leaves the system.

As you can see from just this first definition, there is an entire body of knowledge devoted to queuing systems. As you go about the process of improving and managing your own waiting line efficiency and experience, here is a list of some of the more common queuing-related terminology you’ll be exposed to:

Commodity: a discrete unit that is expected to be serviced (customers!)

Queue: waiting line where the customer (a.k.a. commodity) remains until a service channel becomes available

Queue length: the number of customers waiting for service

Discrete: refers to an individual, unique event or commodity

Finite population: refers to the limited-size customer pool that will use the service and, at times, form a line. A change in the population affects system probabilities.

Infinite population: An infinite population is large enough in relation to the service system so that changes to the population (a customer needing service or a serviced customer returning to the population) does not significantly affect the system probabilities.

System state: the average combined number of customers in queue and in service

System capacity: noted by the integer number of allowed commodities, which, if not specified, is assumed to be infinite

Typical waiting time: average time a customer has to wait before receiving service

Steady state: a queuing system that has been in use for some time and has reached a stabilized customer flow and service rate

Stochastic process: a process that describes arrival patterns of customers as being random due to an individual’s arrival being independent of the number of other customers currently in the queuing system, an individual’s arrival being independent of the previous customer, or the irregular time frames between customer arrivals

Poisson distribution: an exponential distribution that describes the probability of a discrete customer occurring with a known average rate, independent of the time since the last customer and the current system state

Server utilization: ratio of the average time spent helping customers to the duration of time in question (also known as traffic intensity, offered work load, and the busy probability for an arbitrary server)

Server idle time: average time a server spends between helping customers

Balking: leaving the system before entering the waiting line

Jockeying: moving from one queue to another

Reneging: leaving the system after having spent some time in the waiting line

With this reference list in hand, it’s time to learn how to put this terminology to use. Our recent guide, Queuing Theory 1.0, offers a practical approach to understanding general queuing systems.