How long will retail customers wait (and what you can do to help)?

3 min read
Sep 27, 2012

retail customersWhen you have a long line of retail customers in your store it can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it is great that there are many customers, ready to make purchases and improve company revenue. On the other hand, long lines have a tendency to drastically reduce perceived customer satisfaction.

It could even mean some potential customers may decide to give up and leave the store before you are able to close the sale.

So how can you get the balance right and have a busy store while still improving customer loyalty? It all comes down to how long your customers are willing to wait in the checkout queue. You may be surprised with the answer.

On average, retail consumers believe that 5 to 10 minutes is the maximum acceptable amount of time that they are prepared to wait in a line.

If a line appears to be too long, or the time limit has been exceeded, most customers will make the decision to put their purchases back and walk out the door. In fact, lines that are "too long" are the second most common complaint of consumers against retailers (the first complaint being that members of staff who are "rude").

But why are customers not prepared to wait longer to make a purchase?

The answer could lie in increases in the average working week. With more of us working longer than ever before, many are finding that they have less leisure time. Therefore, we are less willing to give up any of that precious time to standing in a long line.

But, using some creative solutions, it is possible to counter potential queue problems before they happen and reduce perceived queuing times. Here are three key factors to consider, when planning on improving a customer’s queuing experience.


Factor #1: Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time

If you leave your customers standing in queues simply twiddling their thumbs in boredom, they will most certainly feel that they have been waiting "forever". The longer a customer has to wait, the lower his or her satisfaction will be.

As the saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun". This same basic truth can be applied to queues. Provide your customers with something to keep them distracted or entertained while waiting.  Anything that engages your customers will help. Try placing eye-catching merchandise, fish tanks, TVs, or anything else that is visually interesting.

Factor #2: Unexplained waits feel longer than explained waits

There is nothing more frustrating to your customers than entering a line that seems short only to be held up for ages. When it seems that the queue has been halted and your cashier is staring off into space without providing any explanation for the wait, you'll notice that your customers will begin to tap their toes and become more agitated. They may even decide that it is not worth the wait and leave without making a purchase.

Instead, be proactive and explain the reasons for any delays to customers and apologise. Where possible, explain how long the delay will be. Customers are more likely to be understanding if they know what is going on.

Factor #3: Avoid any unnecessary delays to keep the queue moving

When it comes to busy times, it’s vital to keep the queue moving forwards. To help this process along, it’s a good idea to streamline check-out processes. This could involve having someone positioned at the front of the queue to direct customers to tills as and when they become available and restricting time-consuming activities, such as loyalty card sign-ups.

Even if the queue is long, customers will feel more relaxed if they can see that it is moving forward.


By addressing these three factors, customer satisfaction will improve, thereby driving increased loyalty and ultimately the amount they spend within your store. An intelligent queue management system is another way that the checkout process can be optimised to not only improve customer service and reduce queue length, but also reduce staffing costs by smartly deploying staff based on demand.

Irisys are the world's leading supplier of queue management systems. Check out our queue management success stories to see how we have helped grocers and supermarkets all over the world reduce customer wait time, improve customer service and increase sales.

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