Queue jumping the shark

Queueing has become a cool pastime. How on earth did that happen? First in line for an iPad 2? Take a bow. Apple will create a guard of honour to applaud you into their Regent St store. You can have a brag about your passion to get the first one. You can say ‘I was there’ at the second coming (of a computer tablet). Cue video – see, 3.11mins into the video, where the interviewee says “Its the biggest queue they’ve seen and they’ve been to iPad 1!”

Want a Nintendo 3DS? Get in line for the midnight store opening. Be proud that you didn’t just wait for a home delivery the very next morning.

Want a free doughnut? A FREE DOUGHNUT! Join the back of a queue. It is a queue 1000 starving welsh people long.


I think it was the huge reception for free Krispy Kreme doughnuts at St David’s shopping centre, Cardiff, that made me realise that creating a queue is currently seen as a sign of success, of inevitable popularity. Mischief PR came up with the incredibly simple premise of making a story out of a doughnut shop that opens with free doughnuts. In anyone else’s book that would be a sampling campaign with a full size sample, in other words stupid. Full size samples are a waste of money aren’t they, not memorable enough to justify the outlay?  But Mischief are PR champions who can read shopper’s minds. Mischief knew that their particular audience would queue up for miles for their freebie and cued up the press attendance. The Sun was amongst those on hand for their news slice of this cake eating frenzy. The story got on Have I Got News For You, a satirical PR coup for Krispy Kreme and a sign that sampling has made the big time!

So queueing is, quite possibly, a blast. It is a positive indication, of a sort. It affirms the desirability of a consumer electronics product and a queue might even be an advisable starting point through which a doughnut vendor can be the new kid in town.

But is there actually any real good news for retailers, or is queueing just a flirtation with shoppers during a time of general disquiet? It is probably good for store staff morale to see over-excited early adopters competing to get into the store once in a while, but if you are HMV that is a merely a moment’s respite in a period of inevitable decline vs. online music, books and DVDs.

These queues have been generated by marketers who have caused a warm desire to experience their brand from the get go. The tradition of queuing at retail used to be saving money, but thrill seeking through bargain hunting is dead. What January sale is worth queuing for anymore, now that discounting is year round? The problem with the new queues is that, unlike the January sales of old, they don’t spill over into the next few weeks with sustained heightened interest at the store. People will keep buying 3DSs but they probably won’t start a new habit of shopping for the games at HMV unless HMV pulls off a magnificent customer experience coup.

The irony of the Krispy Kreme activity is that the free food frenzy was born out ‘entertaining’ shoppers who are not spending as much time actually shopping as they used to. Experience marketers can pick up some of this slack – shoppers who don’t actually shop – by giving them something to do. But in the end experience marketers typically have conversion to sustained purchase as a core objective.

Nevertheless, shopkeepers may gain some solace from this queue phenomenon. At least, they may be saying, my store is a desirable place to stand outside, a brand central where, frankly, shallow people may decide to fritter away a few hours patiently showing off their brand allegiance. Our store is therefore needed, in the same way that a bus stop is needed, so people at least know where to wait. BUT, that was before Uniqlo (and agency Dentsu) who proved that it is the queue itself that generates the excitement, and not necessarily the store, and shoppers would rather queue outside a virtual store…cue the social media phenomenon video. (conclusion below it)


Queuing isn’t really a positive (of course), but buzz is. Breakthrough products need flagship locations. Retailers need to think about themselves like the brands they sell in order to compete. They need to create buzz clubs for spenders who affiliate with the retailer as brand, online and off. That’s not easy to do, but a little bit of entertainment clearly goes a long way in the actual store. Retailtainment is a horrible word for an underused concept. In high traffic store locations, retailtainment should be on constant refresh.

One finals video for you – February’s Krispy Kreme doughnut run from America. It is a run where you eat a box of doughnuts at the halfway stage. Its a boring enough vid but the level of participation is huge and the boxes as trophies phenomenon can be seen to be believed near the end.




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