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Queuing at point of purchase

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Introduction

Queuing is a common practice in which individuals engage in undertaking different activities.  Isa (2006) asserts that queuing is a daily experience for most people. Isa (2006) defines a queue as ‘a group of people waiting their turn to receive the same service’ (p.11).  People queue at different places such as shopping malls, bus stops, and rail stations amongst others. According to Koo and Fishbach (2010), queuing is characterized by economic and psychological costs. Queuing situations may conjure different emotions for different people amongst them restlessness, hopefulness, security, and suspicion. Alternatively, some people consider queuing to be boring.

Despite the fact that queuing is a pervasive activity, some individuals engage in queuing without paying much attention to what might be required of them as they progress in the queue.  Brown (2004) asserts that queuing is characterized by social interaction between different individuals. For example, queuing leads to social interaction between customers and service staff. Gaining insight into queuing is essential in developing new knowledge on a certain issue that might be taken for granted.

Queuing is a common phenomenon at the point of purchase where customers physically purchase products and services such as retail outlets (Sutherland & Canwell 2004). Queuing in shopping malls is a common phenomenon. This paper examines queuing at the point of purchase in shopping malls. The paper focuses on queuing at the point-of-purchase at ASDA Shopping Mall in London.  The study is based on qualitative research in order to develop insight into the fundamental issues associated with customers queuing at the point of purchase. Sim and Wright (2002) assert that qualitative studies provide deeper insight into a particular problem or issue.  Gaining this knowledge is essential in providing managers insight into the fundamental issues that managers should take into account in undertaking their operations management role.

One of the fundamental issues in operations management includes improving service encounters. According to Jones and Robinson (2012), service encounter entails ‘the period of time during which the customer and the service organizations interact face-to-face, over the telephone, or through any media’ (p. 200). The point-of-purchase constitutes a critical contact point, which is generally referred to as the ‘moment of truth’. Attendants at shopping malls such as cashiers serve a large number of customers daily. One of the methods that they apply in serving customers entails queuing. Attendants have a duty to ensure that the amount of time that customers spend in the queues does not negatively impact the customers’ attitude. Jones and Robinson (2012) assert that ‘a number of past studies show that customers’ perception of waiting and actual waiting time are not the same’ (p. 207). For example, customers may develop the perception that they have waited for a longer time than they actually have.  The outcome of queuing in shopping malls is shaped by three main dimensions that include the customer who intends his or her demands to be satisfied, the firm that has stipulated policies and guidelines on queuing, and how the service attendant deals with the customers (Jones & Robinson 2012).

According to Brown (2004), one of the problems encountered in the shopping environment entails managing the order and the way in which customers present themselves to be served’ (p.12).  Poor management of queues at the point of purchase might lead to dissatisfaction among customers.  The negative experiences associated with queuing can form a critical aspect that shopping malls can exploit in undertaking market research hence improving service delivery. This paper entails a qualitative research study on queuing at the point of purchase.

Methods and approach

To gain adequate insight into queuing, a qualitative research method was used.   The qualitative research method enables a researcher to explore and understand the meaning individuals or groups of individuals ascribe to in relation to human problems (Creswell 2014). Under the qualitative research method, data is gathered from the participant’s settings. Subsequently, to gain insight into queuing at the point of purchase, data was gathered from customers’ queues at ASDA shopping mall, London. The inductive research approach is aimed at developing a theory on a particular social issue on the basis of qualitative data collected from the field (Crowther & Lancaster; Suter 2012).  Therefore, inductive reasoning was employed in gathering research data.

The research data was collected by employing different techniques that included interviews, observation, and images.  To actualize these methods of data collection, permission was sought from ASDA’s management team by seeking informed consent. The basic principle of informed consent is to create awareness of different aspects associated with a research study such as the aims, methods to be applied, and the rights and responsibilities of the subjects (Delamont & Atkinson 2011). This was achieved by informing the firm’s management team that the research study was aimed at developing knowledge on how to apply qualitative research techniques in the real environment (Hancock 2010).  Data collection by observation was achieved by systematically recording observations of people in queues within the shopping mall (Hair 2015). Field notes were also integrated in collecting data using the observation method (Speziale & Carpenter 2011).

Observations on queuing were made at the shopping mall for a period of two weeks. The observational data was recorded through the establishment of a narrative, whereby a description of customers’ activities in the queues at the shopping mall was recorded. In order to enhance the collection of data using observations, a structured questionnaire was used as the data collection instrument. Observations were well structured using a checklist. Thus, observational data was recorded using predetermined criteria (Given 2008). Data collection was also actualized by interviewing customers in the queues. The rationale for using interviews was to gain a deeper insight into the customers’ opinions regarding queuing.  In addition to this approach, the research process involved collecting images of customers in queues at the point of purchase. However, permission was sought from customers and the shopping mall’s management team with reference to taking photographs within the shopping mall.

Analysis

The research study showed that customers engage in two main activities while waiting in queues. One of the activities that were observed included interaction between customers waiting for service in the queues. Secondly, it was observed that some customers in the queue were active on their mobile phones and other hand-held devices.

With regard to interaction, it was observed that customers in the queues engaged in conversation with other customers.  The customers established conversations with customers in front and behind them in the queue. Thus, the conversation was multi-directional. However, it was observed that conversation was not constant but occurred randomly.  Figure 1 and 2 illustrates customers holding social interaction with their other customers while waiting in the queues at the shopping mall.

Fig 1 Queuing at point of purchase

Figure 1

fig 2 Fig 1 Queuing at point of purchase

Figure 2; Social interaction of customers at ASDA

Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons (2000) assert that customers in queues engage in social interaction with fellow customers irrespective of whether they are familiar with the customers or not. It was also observed that interaction between customers involved all customers irrespective of their gender and age. Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons (2000) emphasize that ‘the degree to which a customer interacts with other customers is minimal’ (p. 39). Nevertheless, the level of interaction is relatively high in situations where customers are familiar with each other such as members of a buying coalition engaging in making joint purchases (Elder-Vass 2010). In spite of conversation being a common element amongst customers in the queues, it was noted that some customers were calm and focused on keeping the queue moving. Thus, they did not initiate or engage in any conversation with fellow customers waiting in the queue.

In an effort to understand the customers’ motivation in establishing conversations with fellow customers, qualitative interviews were used. This was achieved by asking customers in queues what stimulates them to engage in social interaction with fellow customers in queues by initiating conversation.  The customers gave different reasons.  One of the issues noted is that most customers resort to conversations with other customers in an effort to minimize the perceived waiting duration.  The customers noted different aspects as outlined in the summary of the qualitative interview below.

Engaging in conversation with other customers in the queues is an essential strategy that aids in ‘reducing’ the perceived waiting time. Waiting in long queues is boring and sometimes tiring. Establishing conversations with other customers significantly reduces the likelihood of developing feelings of dissatisfaction with customer service attendants at the point of purchase.

This finding is supported by Bandyopadhyay and Bhattacharya (2014) who assert that unoccupied time increases the likelihood of an individual developing the feeling that he or she has waited for a longer period than expected. Similarly, Barnes (2008) supports this view by affirming that ‘unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time’ (p. 201). Development of this feeling arises from the boredom that arises from waiting. According to Astin (2007), boredom makes one to be more conscious of the passage of time.  In an effort to reduce the development of such perceptions, different service organization have entrenched different strategies. For example, restaurants tend to issue customers menus hence distracting customers from the perception of time. This arises from the fact that the customers spend a substantial amount of time perusing through the menu.

Observation of the queues further showed that customers were extensively engaged with their mobile phones and other handheld devices. To gain insight into the issues that make customers spend a substantial amount of their waiting time in queue interacting with their mobile phones, the customers argued that it aids in reducing anxiety associated with waiting in queues (Chamley 2004). Most of the customers that I interacted with were of the opinion that interacting with their mobile phones makes them feel relaxed and hence they do not get bored while waiting for service. Additionally, the customers also asserted that interaction with their handheld devices such as mobile phones makes them not to be conscious of the amount of time spent while moving along the queue.

This finding is supported by Tenenbaum and Eklund (2007), who emphasize that an individual’s dispositional self-consciousness is a fundamental factor that determines a person’s reaction towards waiting in a queue, which is aligned with the theory of self-consciousness. According to Marquis and Filiatrault (2002), the self-consciousness theory postulates that ‘a person cannot focus on the temporal attributes of a service environment and on internal preoccupations at the same time’ (p. 213). The customers affirmed that interacting with their phones reduces stress that arises from reflection on personal issues and issues arising from the surrounding environment. In this case, the customers were of the opinion that interacting with their mobile phones reduces the likelihood of becoming stressed for having to wait for some time in order to receive a service. For example, customers do not have to develop the perception that they are losing a substantial amount of their valuable time by waiting (Boekaerts, Pintrich & Zeidner 2005).

Interaction with the customers further showed that queuing at point purpose is also characterized by a substantially high degree of uncertainty, which makes customers develop the perception that the amount of time required to wait is substantially long (Veeraraghavan & Debo 2009). The significance of holding conversation amongst individuals waiting in a queue is supported by Zourrig and Chebat (2009) who assert that ‘making interactions between customers is more enjoyable and reduces waiting time perception’ (p. 23).  Most of the research subjects were of the opinion that;

Waiting makes one anxious about when he or she will receive the expected service and how the service will be delivered.

Other customers were of the view that;

When moving in a queue, one is uncertain of the estimated amount of time that would be expended in the queue. Thus, waiting in queues constitutes a timeless form of torture.  In the event that the amount of time that one would expend in a queue is substantially long, one tends to be dissatisfied with the queue.

The anxiety associated with customers while waiting is well illustrated by figure 2 below, whereby customers behind a queue tended to evaluate the progress made by the service attendant in serving the customer.

fig 3 asda

Figure 2; Images of customers in a queue at ASDA

Past studies on queuing show that on average, individuals progressing through a queuing in the quest to receive a certain service or product tend to overestimate the amount of time spent in the queue by approximately 36% (Jones & Hwang 2005). Customers’ engagement in different activities such as conversing or interacting with their mobile devices while in the queue underlines the fact that consumers seek to engage in an activity that would enable them to free themselves from the timeless form of torture associated with waiting (Chamley 2004).  This aspect is aligned with Matter’s (2012) view that ‘occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time’ (para. 3).

Another aspect that was observed in the course of customer queuing is that customers tend to prefer shorter queues compared to long queues (Veeraraghavan & Debo 2009). Thus, depending on the flow of the queue, customers would jump from long queues to queues that were considered to be relatively shorter, which is commonly referred to as jockeying (Vohra 2007).  The act of customers jumping from one queue to another as observed is supported by Swartz and Iacobucci (2000) who assert that individuals waiting in a queue tend to develop the perception that the other line is always efficient and hence moves faster. In explaining their customers’ motivation to change from one queue to another, the individuals in the queue explained that they consider efficiency as a fundamental issue in receiving any service.

According to Kachru (2007), short waiting lines can arise from the server or the service provider being more efficient. Additionally, short waiting lines can also be a result of limited demand for the service or product. Conversely, long waiting lines can be a result of poor server efficiency or an increase in demand for the service being sought (Soman & Zhou 2002). In addition to jockeying, reneging which entails customers leaving a queue and exiting the shopping mall was also another activity that was observed (Vohra 2007). The researcher sought to understand the motivation behind customers’ decision to renege. Most customers explained that;

The queue was moving too slowly hence inconveniencing the quest to attend to other personal matters. The customers were of the view that it would be much better to return for the service at a later time when the service delivery would have improved and when queues were not too long.

Another aspect that was observed entailed balking, whereby on arrival at the cashier, the customers evaluated the length of the queue before deciding to join the queue. If the queue is relatively long, the customers may decide not to join the queue (Shah, Gor & Soni 2007).

Methodological discussion

In the undertaking of the qualitative study, a number of methodological issues and challenges were encountered. Employing observations, interviews and images as the core method of data collection was advantageous in a number of ways. First, conducting observations ensured that the data collected from the field was valid. The validity of the data collected arose from the fact that the behavior of the research subjects was observed from the natural setting, viz. queue within the shopping mall.  This means that observation as a method of research data does not involve simulation whereby the behavior that is observed under such an environment is unlikely to be typical. According to Creswell (2014), the validity of research data is essential in ensuring that the conclusion reached in conducting a research study is reliable. Conducting observation further ensured that the behavior of the research subject was not influenced in any way.  Gorman et al. (2004) assert that observation as a method of data collection is characterized by ‘a reality verifying’ character. This means that it is possible for the researcher to compare what the research subjects say they do and what they actually do (Gorman et al.2004).

For example, observation provides the researcher with an opportunity to record research data as they occur. In addition to these benefits, employing observation as a method of data collection was very beneficial in that it provided an opportunity to observe behavior of research subjects that would have been difficult to gather data from (Callander & Horner 2006). Examples of such research subjects include people who might be unwilling to provide the necessary research data. Integrating qualitative interviews was also essential in gathering relevant research data. This arises from the fact that the interviews provided an opportunity to interact directly with the customers. Thus, it was possible to gain insight into the customers’ feelings and perceptions of queuing.  This goal was achieved through the integration of integration of unstructured interviews. Klenke (2008) emphasizes that unstructured interviews, which are comprised of open-ended questionnaires provide the researcher an opportunity to delve deeper beyond the superficial responses provided by the research subjects. For example, the integration of interviews created an opportunity for the researcher to scrutinize the respondent’s feelings about queuing.

In spite of these benefits, one of the major challenges encountered by collecting research data using the three methods relates to resource constraints. First, a substantial amount of time was consumed in making observations of customers’ behavior.  Similarly, conducting semi-structured interviews further increased the amount of time required.  The interviewing technique was also challenging because not all the customers approached the queue for a response on a particular issue associated with their behavior while the queue was responsive. This aspect significantly reduced the rate of response. By employing the descriptive method in analyzing the research data, the researcher was able to establish a link between the research findings to existing theories and concepts on the research topic.

Academic and practical implications

The research study has led to significant academic and practical implications. One of the fundamental academic implications is that the research study has led to the creation of critical insight into how to undertake qualitative research studies. This aspect is essential in my quest for future and professional development. For example, by gaining practical knowledge on how to apply qualitative research methods in a real study environment, I will be able to undertake qualitative research in my future career. This will play an essential role in increasing the likelihood of achieving career progression. Moreover, gaining knowledge on how to conduct qualitative research studies within the business field will further play a fundamental role in increasing my employability. This arises from the fact that I will be able to undertake research studies on diverse business issues. Conducting qualitative research studies in my career field will contribute to the creation of new knowledge on different issues. The ultimate effect is that knowledge of the application of qualitative research methods, techniques, and skills will contribute to the development of theory on operations management (Schmitt 2013).

The findings of the qualitative research study show that queuing is a fundamental issue that retail firms such as shopping malls should take into consideration in their operational practices.  Customers develop different perceptions of queuing which influences their behavior towards queuing. For example, some customers develop feelings of boredom, anxiety, and uncertainty when they are required to queue. Additionally, some individuals are of the perception that queuing is a waste of time. These aspects indicate that queuing can result in a negative impact on the level of customer satisfaction (Dourish 2001). Despite developing these feelings, customers are forced to queue in order to receive the intended service.  Consequently, in the process of queuing, customers engage in different activities such as establishing social contact with other customers in the queues. However, some customers prefer interacting with their mobile devices. The customers’ motivation to engage in these activities is triggered by the need to break the boredom and stress associated with queuing (Nasir 2015).

By taking into account these aspects in their operations’ management practices, firms in the retail sector such as shopping malls can develop effective strategies that will significantly reduce the negative impacts associated with queuing. For example, firms in the retail sector can adjust their operational practices by ensuring that customers waiting in queues are adequately engaged. This will play a fundamental role in minimizing the likelihood of customers developing negative feelings, which might affect their satisfaction with how service is offered within the retail outlet (Hassin & Haviv 2003). One of the strategies that retail firms can consider in improving the extent to which customers are engaged while waiting to be served in queues entails implementing effective technologies (Manning, Bodine & Forrester 2012).  For example, retail firms may consider entrenching screens within the retail stores showing different programs such as adverts on the firm’s products and services. Alternatively, the firms may also consider showing educative programs to customers. This approach will play a fundamental role in reducing boredom among customers. The ultimate effect is that customers will not be conscious of the amount of time spent while waiting in the queue.

In summary, the research study is very valuable in the quest to achieve personal and professional development. Moreover, firms in the retail sector can exploit the research findings in adjusting their operational practices hence increasing the probability of attaining operational efficiency.

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