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Monday, August 09, 2010

Waiting & the Retail Experience

Time Warped?

'Bending' Time or How to Improve Waiting in the Retail Experience

Have you ever spent time waiting? Perhaps at the bank, waiting for a teller or ATM, or at a grocery store checkout, perhaps even on the phone for service. Did you like it? I bet you put up with it, though, because you had no other choice.  It was simply part of that retail experience.

As negative as waiting is, it can be managed in such a way that the person waiting may enjoy the experience or, at least, not feel dissatisfied. Call it 'bending' time.

I was reminded of this when I read that US Emergency Department patients spent an average of 4 hours, 7 minutes waiting [an increase over previous findings] and yet "patients who waited more than four hours, but received 'good' or 'very good' information about delays were just as satisfied as patients who spent less than one hour in the emergency department." [note: bolding mine]

In other words, interacting with those waiting and eliminating their uncertainty about the wait positively affected their waiting experience.

In Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill dedicates a chapter to waiting and the retail experience.  It's titled "Time, Real and Perceived" and states "...the single most important factor in determining a shopper's opinion of the service he or she receives is waiting time.... Quite simply, a short wait enhances the entire shopping experience and a long one poisons it."

However, he explains that shoppers' perception of waiting time can be 'bent' or modified.

Time is a funny thing. We may measure it with a watch, but our internal sense of time may override what the watch tells us [think of times when time flies or seems to drag forever].

According to Paco, "when people wait up to about a minute and a half, their sense of how much time has elapsed is fairly accurate.  Anything over ninety or so seconds, however, and their sense of time distorts.... Taking care of a customer in two minutes is a success; doing it in three minutes is a failure."

And yet those folks waiting in emergency rooms did so for much longer and were satisfied! Why?

His advice for the retail experience:

Interaction - human or otherwise - makes a difference.  "The time a shopper spends waiting after an employee has initiated contact goes faster than time spent waiting before that interaction takes place."

Eliminate uncertainty"Tell shoppers their wait will be finite and controlled rather than open-ended and subject to the vagaries of fate and chance."

Companionship.  It's much easier to wait if you have someone to talk to.

Diversion.  "Almost anything will suffice." Communicate a message, offer reading materials; in so doing you 'bend' shoppers' perception of waiting time.

My favorite personal example took place several years ago when my flight was canceled and I had to spend an extra night on the road. When I reached the airport Marriott, a line of fellow stranded travelers stretched out the door, all waiting to check in. Not good. I had no other choice than to wait...After a while, a Marriott employee made his way through the line reassuring those waiting that additional personnel had been called to help expedite registration [interaction, eliminate uncertainty]. Next, he produced a silver tray filled with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies which he offered to each of us [diversion!] while thanking us for our patience.  This then broke the ice between those of us waiting and we all began to chat, expressing amazement over the cookies [companionship].  I was sorry when it was my turn to check in. Marriott had successfully bent time for me, altering my perception of waiting time.

Paco's advice on bending time or altering waiting translates to my hotel experience as well as emergency room waiting.  What about in your business? What do you do to help bend waiting time in your retail experience?

Image Credit:
Time Warped? originally uploaded by onkel_wart


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