Modern Retail

The Cost of a Queue – How Much Revenue Are You Losing to Lines?


Have you walked past the Lego shop in Leicester square recently? Did you see the people queuing up outside – sometimes in the rain – just to get in the shop? And, there are a few hot tech and training shoe releases that love a queue – the more people in the queue, and the more social media impressions it creates, the better.

For most businesses, however, the exact opposite is true – it’s a sign the operation is not working as it should and something to be avoided. What is the cost of a queue?

A few years ago, customers were more accepting of a queue and a call forward system that ensured a “fair” queue was a big innovation. Now, customers can vote with their mouse and head online or use some of the seriously good apps available.

A 2018 study from Ayden, a retail payment platform, reported that UK businesses lose almost £12 billion pounds a year. With around half of that due to customers leaving the queue and not shopping that day; and a further half due to customers switching away from a retailer who makes them queue all together.

A study of US supermarkets reported in Harvard Business Review found that sales could drop by up to 10% when queues become too long.

Causes of queues – and the best defence

What causes a queue?

The easy answer is that there is a mismatch between customer demand and the resources available to serve them that has caused a queue to build as demand outstrips capacity.

The trick is to get under the detail of your operation and understand what the drivers of your queues are. The common causes we see include:

  • Team breaks planned at peak customer times, reducing capacity just when it matters most
  • Colleagues focusing on tasks rather than customers, for example being engrossed in putting stock on the shelf
  • Click & Collect parcel pick up that takes colleagues away from the tills for a long walk to the stock room and protracted search for the parcel
  • Slow connections that add a few seconds to the average transaction time

It’s a tricky commercial balance – too few colleagues and there’s a queue; too many and you are wasting salary spend that could be invested in adding value.

Businesses are coming up with good ways to improve and eliminate their queues:

  1. Mobile payment – some stores are abandoning traditional till points and colleagues have mobile payment terminals. Schuh take payments when they hand over your shoes on the sales floor, rather than taking customers to a till at the back – greatly increasing their capacity and creating a very smooth customer experience
  2. Scan and go – using apps or handheld tech so customers do their own scanning and packing with just a quick drop into a payment point as they leave
  3. Some large stores use their footfall counters to alert the checkout teams that they are getting busy and open more tills to prevent a queue starting
  4. It’s been discussed for ever and not taken off – that RFID will mean products will auto-scan a basket or trolley as it passes through a scanner. Perhaps the technology has been overtaken by scan and go for customer use

And what’s the most annoying queue in the world – a sign that things are really wrong? When you have to queue to use a self-check-out till.

Article by Simon Hedaux, founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world leading productivity partner which helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity and optimise budgets. For more information see

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