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To queue or not to queue, that is the que(ue)stion!

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By Tom Challinor 18/05/2020

In the topsy-turvy world of Covid-19, there’s much talk of adapting to a ‘new normal’ – not just for a few weeks or months, but for the foreseeable future. All companies are facing fresh challenges, but retailers, especially, are grappling with an unprecedented shift in the nation’s shopping habits that’s taxing online provision to the max.

To say that online shopping has enjoyed something of an uptick since March would be the understatement of the year.

Seasoned ecommerce operators are expanding their virtual boundaries exponentially, while retailers that previously relied heavily on a strong bricks-and-mortar presence have been swiftly upscaling their online offering to match new customer buying patterns.

As many ecommerce sites are experiencing the kind of footfall normally associated with seasonal events, such as Black Friday and the New Year sales period, every day is a peak traffic day (we talk in more depth about this phenomenon in our Preparing for the Perma Peak report).

In the battle to maintain optimal user experience (UX) levels, many retailers are opting to implement queuing systems – but are they proving to be more trouble than they’re worth?

Thank you for your patience

As websites creak under the increased pressure from online demand, tech teams are tasked with plotting the best, and least frustrating, ways to manage the load.
Queuing systems aren’t new, of course. They are usually deployed in extremis during peak periods to avoid the inevitable bottlenecks that occur when too many people are engaged in the same function at the same time. In theory, this should result in a better UX for those journeying through the website and lead to more successful transactions and fewer outages.

In practice, however, it may simply shift the bottleneck to the queue itself, causing less-committed shoppers to relinquish their expedition and look for alternatives. Even if shoppers make it through the system, they are likely to take a shorter (and more time-efficient) purchase path, eschewing browsing altogether and heading straight for the checkout with only the most essential items in their baskets. Not to mention the possibility of encountering third-party capacity issues along the way.

At Tribe, we’re not against queuing systems per se; we appreciate that sometimes the pros outweigh the cons – but only if they’re perceived as reasonable. In these extraordinary times, shoppers will probably be prepared to wait a reasonable (and preferably clearly defined) period to access something they need. Even so, people don’t have endless reserves of patience.
Boots and B&Q both hit the headlines recently when their eye-wateringly high queue numbers – in some cases numbering the hundreds of thousands – triggered a wave of disbelief among shoppers already wearied by the effort of trying to access increasingly elusive supplies.

Meeting new challenges effectively

Our experience working with some of the high street’s biggest brands shows that being properly prepared for online browsers and buyers will reduce – if not eliminate altogether – the need to deploy queuing systems as a matter of course, even during periods of peak traffic.

What’s your experience of online queuing systems? Should we be making more use of them or are they more trouble than they’re worth?


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