Standing in line can be torture – digital menu boards can help

Feb 07, 2014 | Articles

If there’s one thing Americans hate, it’s waiting in lines. 

From grocery stores to baggage claims to retail stores, studies have shown that the American population spends roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting on lines. 

Not ideal for a fast-paced, technology-driven society that has gotten used to, and now expects, instant gratification. 

Research conducted by Ziv Carmon, a professor of marketing at the business school Insead, and the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman, have found that there’s a great deal of psychology surrounding our perception of waiting in lines and how waiting can positively or negatively we impact the overall experience.

If a line moves faster than one might expect, the overall experience is often deemed positive. But if consumers are left standing idle well beyond their anticipated threshold…well you get the idea. 

Further research on the psychology of waiting has shown that, on average, people overestimate how long they’ve actually waited on line by about 36 percent - based more on their level of impatience rather than reality. So in a nut shell, it’s not really the actual time spent waiting, but a person’s perception of how long they waited. 

Regardless, the last thing your business needs is word-of-mouth marketing by disgruntled consumers who may have had to wait a few extra minutes, but have over-exaggerated the actual timing. 

To help combat the torture of waiting on lines, businesses have developed clever solutions that play to our psychology – creating distractions from the true wait duration. Mirrors next to elevators for people to check their hair or stare at those passing behind them; magazines and candy at the register; television monitors placed in amusement park lines playing movies and commercials. These solutions are cleverly designed to distract your attention away from the fact that you’re standing in line…waiting. 

However, surveys have shown that many people will wait twice as long for fast food – providing restaurants use first-come-first-served, single line ordering systems. Even so, many QSR’s are implementing digital signage systems as a unique way to play to a customer’s psychology. 

Because digital signage and digital menu boards help to tell a story to everyone who walks through your door – from frequent visitors who require new stimulation, to first time patrons who are unfamiliar with your brand – customer engagement is paramount. 

Digital menu boards capture customers’ attention by utilizing unique design elements, including motion, movies and animation. Day part content, product imagery, calls-to-action and message layering can also help engage and motivate customers, and also help to control perceived wait time. 

In short, digital menu boards can provide the same psychological distractions as mirrors next to elevators or monitors in amusement park lines – shaping the perception of customer wait time into a positive one.  

Information gathered from “Why Waiting Is Torture” by Alex Stone
Published: August 18, 2012, Sunday New York Times

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