retail queue management system

Everything Retail Businesses Must Know About QMS

For today’s customers, the thing they value the most is neither money nor location — it’s time.

In fact, the importance of time trumps every other aspect, including brand loyalty. This goes double for millennials, who are willing to go to a competing business if it means shorter waiting time.

Because of this, more and more businesses turn their attention to saving time with queue management systems and customer flow automation.

But why should you?

The efficiency of a business is determined by its ability to turn random walk-ins into a manageable line. A queue management system centralizes information flow to improve the waiting experience.

In other words, customers know how long they need to wait, employees know who needs what, and everybody goes home happy. It may sound straightforward, but there’s a lot that goes into building a queue management system — one that’s easy to use and has all the features you need to keep your customers happy.

In this post, we will go through the basics of building a QMS to help your business save time, provide an improved customer experience, and be more efficient.

For easy reference, here are the few things we will cover:

  1. Queuing Systems 101
  2. How to Manage the Queue at Your Retail Store
  3. Why Should Retail Businesses Invest in a QMS?
  4. Using Qminder for Your Business

Let’s jump right in.

Queuing Systems 101

queuing systems explained

What is a queuing system?

In short, it is a method of creating complex models of real-life situations using advanced statistics and the rules of probability.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to understand these complex models to run a shop. But having a grasp of the essential aspects of a QMS can help you put your business decisions into perspective.

Let’s break down the different elements that go into a queuing system.

Population of Customers

What is the number of customers you are serving?

Depending on the answer, the population of your customers can be categorized as:

  • Limited — when there is a known cap on the number of customers you’re serving. Think of passengers waiting to board a flight. (Quick tip: it’s pointless to wait in a queue when you have a reserved seat).
  • Unlimited — a much likelier situation in most retail businesses, which deals with random, unexpected walk-ins. Think of banks or shopping checkout counters.

Method of Arrival

How are your customers arriving?

Do they arrive individually or in groups? What is the time interval between two successive arrivals? Is this dependent on the time of the day?

These are the questions that will help you formulate a random distribution of intervals known as the arrival pattern.

Service Mechanism

What is your service and what resources do you need?

Depending on the number of available servers, you can have a single-channel system (one server) or a multi-channel system (many servers). For multi-channel systems, the servers can be in a series (a separate queue for each server) or parallel (one queue for all servers).

Once you know how long it takes to serve each customer, you can figure out a random distribution of service durations called the service pattern.


There are two main questions to ask when managing a queue: Which customer to serve next? and How are your customers behaving in a queue?

Common Types of Queue Discipline

  • First in, first out (also known as first come, first served).
  • Last in, first out.
  • Randomly served.

Alternatively, you can decide specific parameters for your queue discipline. For example, you can queue your customers based on the amount of time you will need to serve each of them.

In many retail businesses, serving the customer requiring the least time first reduces the average wait time for the entire queue.

Customer Behavior

While we all want to work exclusively with nice customers, this can’t always be the case. Sometimes you have to deal with customers who are:

  • Balking — if a customer finds the queue too long, they won’t join it.
  • Reneging — if a customer waits too long, they will leave without being serviced.
  • Jockeyinga customer thinks the other line is shorter.

The list goes on.

Instead of blaming this on your clients, you have to look inward: How could I have made their experience better?

The answer is, again, queuing systems.

Queuing systems aren’t just about numbers. These models take into account a lot of qualitative information which helps you figure how to approach your customers.

So instead of following generic advice from operations management gurus, you can customize your queuing system to incorporate what you know about your customers’ behavior.

How to Manage the Queue at Your Retail Store

managing queue at retail store

Many retail businesses face queues every day, and the way they handle the queues can make or break their operations.

To fully benefit from a queue management system, you have to understand what kind of a queuing system your operation needs. The two main parameters are the number of channels (or servers) and the number of phases of service.

Let’s look at different ways companies manage their waiting lines.

Single Channel, Single Phase

There’s one server, and once a customer is attended to, they receive full service. A common example of a single-channel, single-phase business is a car wash.

Single Channel, Multi Phase

The service is broken down into multiple steps to keep the queue moving. Think of retail banking, where different counters serve different functions: withdrawals, deposits, new accounts, etc.

Multi Channel, Single Phase

Queues are broken down by customer type. This includes separate queues for business class passengers at airports, separate queues for women and senior citizens at banks, etc.

Multi Channel, Multi Phase

There are multiple servers providing service in multiple phases. A laundromat that has several washers and dryers is a multi-channel, multi-phase service.

Why Should Retail Businesses Invest in a Queue Management System?

queue management system for retail business

The survival of retail businesses depends on securing large volumes of customers every day.

With a focus on generating footfalls, business owners feel like once a customer is inside their store — and eventually in the checkout queue — the job is done.

Customers, however, don’t shy away from expressing their frustration with the storefront shopping experience.

But First… Is Retail Dead?

It’s easy to think that traditional brick-and-mortar stores are on the verge of extinction.

After all, US consumers spend more than 5 hours on their smartphones daily. Tweeting, pinning and instagramming might get your products more attention than any flyer or billboard.

While e-commerce evangelists want you to believe that retail is drawing its last breath, statistics tell a different story. Despite a recent dip in share of consumer dollars, retail continues to be a multi-trillion dollar industry in the United States alone.

Perhaps the most telling figure is this: 55% of online shoppers would rather buy from a merchant with a physical store than from an online-only retailer.

This confirms a long-standing view in the consumer goods industry — people are looking not to replace traditional stores with the digital commerce ecosystem, but to improve it.

Beyond any doubt, customer experience is the most important metric.

In a few clicks, consumers can have goods delivered to their doorstep. The ubiquity of point-of-sale machines takes the friction out of online purchases, with customers choosing preferred method of payment.

In light of these developments, can retail businesses compete with industry giants like Amazon?

They can, with the right queue management system.

We’ve considered both the academic discipline and practical use cases of queue management systems. It’s time to look at how effective QMS can be and what are specific benefits of using it in your business.

Improved Customer Satisfaction

Taking the guessing game out of queuing reduces confusion. Improved service generates customer happiness — and a happier customer is a more loyal customer, who will help promote your business by word of mouth.

(Vice-versa, a frustrated customer will never come back and might even discourage others from visiting your store.)

Still not convinced on the importance of customer satisfaction? Take a look at these numbers:

  • The probability of selling to a new customer is between 5 and 20%. The probability of selling to an existing customer is between 60 and 70%.
  • Loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.

Customer satisfaction and brand loyalty aren’t simply a matter of reducing wait time, either.

Your clients won’t remember what you say or do, but they’ll remember how you make them feel. Something as simple as getting rid of impersonal tokens and addressing them by name makes a massive difference.

Reduced Costs

Dealing with queues can significantly cut management costs and help you better use and understand your staff. In fact, even your team morale is higher when employees have clearly defined tasks and goals, which leads to increased productivity.

Installing new counters is a significant financial investment. If poor queue management drags down the speed of your counter, you can fix it with a right queue management system.

Data-Driven Forecasting

We’ve already discussed before how appointments are a terrible idea. Instead, your focus should be on improving the walk-in experience.

Forecasting is key to winning the retail game. Over time, your queue management system can help you predict the expected daily footfalls and prepare accordingly.

In fact, you can dig much further into your data to see which times of the day see maximum rush, and which times are relatively slow.

You can also analyze footfalls based on day of the week, seasons and more, to finetune your staffing and inventory decisions.

Qminder: Simple, Powerful and Customizable Queue Management System for Your Business

qminder queue management system for retail

Now you know everything about the inner workings of queue management, its significance in retail, and the benefits of using QMS.

But even if you can appreciate the merits of using a QMS, there are a few roadblocks when implementing it in your business:

  • Complicated setup.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • High cost.

This is where Qminder comes in.

Qminder is a highly flexible platform that you can customize to your business needs.

There’s no need for technical support — you can install the platform in minutes, and the main dashboard streamlining your entire business runs within your browser. It’s built for intuitive use, saving you tens of hours in training.

There are no usage-based restrictions, either. Add unlimited users, queues, checkout counters, and visitors.

Qminder works seamlessly across multiple devices. Use iPads for easy visitor sign-up, TVs for queue displays, and the dashboard to manage your business — all wirelessly, in real time.

Transform your business into a data-informed organization with zero effort using Qminder’s Service Intelligence. Reports include historical store information, employee performance, and much more.

From Theory to Practice

Despite its name, queuing theory offers more than just theoretical knowledge. It has many practical applications and can help you figure out your business in terms of staffing, scheduling, and customer satisfaction.

The need for excellent customer experience is on the rise, and with proper tools, you can truly put your customers first.

and see how empowering your customers can improve your business as well.

Try Qminder Free


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