Queue-it applies ‘queuing psychology’ to help online retailers

February 10, 2020 15:58
Co-founder and CEO Niels Henrik Sodemann said online retailers and transactional websites turn to Queue-it for its "virtual waiting room" offering. Photo: Queue-it

(First of a two-part series)

The coronavirus outbreak has sparked panic-buying in Hong Kong, with residents snapping up all the surgical masks they could find as well as daily necessities such as rice and toilet rolls.

Shoppers desperate to acquire face masks and household items have also crowded into online portals of retailers and merchants. This may be good news for the sellers but it also brings unprecedented pressure on their network browsing capacity.

Amid such surges in online traffic, it is a good thing that many large local retailers have deployed an online queuing system called “Queue-it”, which allows website visitors to wait in line before entering the website for browsing and shopping.

The technology solution was developed by software technology firm Queue-it, founded by chief operating office Camilla Ley Valentin, chief technology officer Martin Pronk, and chief executive Niels Henrik Sodemann in 2010.

In an exclusive interview with EJ Insight, CEO Sodemann shared how the firm’s "Virtual Waiting Room" solution assists retailers in managing the inflow of online customers during peak periods.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

EJ Insight: What was the genesis of your company? What was going on in the industry that triggered the idea of Queue-it and its founding?

Sodemann: It’s a bit different than a lot of the other startups that I know because we didn’t start with the idea. We started with the team. My two co-founders and I had worked together for six or seven years, and we decided we wanted to develop a cloud-based software solution together. We specifically wanted to develop something that had global potential, used cloud computing, and which wasn’t custom-built but rather could be used by many companies. Remember this was in late 2009, so cloud computing was a lot newer than it is today. We thought it was the right technology to put our money in.

We had a brainstorming session where we analyzed all these ideas and decided that the idea of Queue-it was the best one to move forward with.

There had been a lot of negative press about online ticket sales, e-commerce campaigns, and government services crashing. Many of these activities were only recently being moved online, so there were a lot of growing pains involved. Web performance was also an area in which we had extensive expertise from our years consulting and advising clients. Nothing existed in the virtual waiting room space when we started, so it was exciting to be the ones to kick that off.

Q: How would you describe Queue-it’s technology solution? What are the major issues that Queue-it’s solution is trying to address?

A: When traffic surges suddenly, it can overload even the world's biggest businesses. Anyone who reads the newspaper can recognize big brands that have had their website or app crash because of overwhelming demand. In an ideal world, websites and apps could scale infinitely and on demand, accommodating whatever traffic the internet throws their way. But the fact is, it’s incredibly technically challenging.

Fundamentally, what Queue-it's virtual waiting room does is give businesses control over the inflow of traffic to their websites and apps. Businesses know about how much traffic their website can manage before performance begins to decline. By keeping traffic at or below that level, Queue-it helps take the pressure off the bottlenecks involved in the website journey, like an inventory system’s locking mechanism.

An online queue system that sends visitors to a website in a first-come, first-served order is the fairest way to deal with spikes in traffic that would otherwise slow or crash a website, in our opinion.

Q: Traditionally, online retailers have managed traffic peaks through raffles, or server scaling. How is Queue-it’s solution different from that?

A: We see Queue-it as a complement to server scaling. It’s great to scale up, but it doesn’t solve all the problems. For one, it doesn’t help with third-party bottlenecks like the payment system, which are usually out of a company’s control. For another, it’s not possible to build auto-scaling into any software product. In our conversations with businesses, we’ve heard over and over how it’s technically complex and financially impractical to scale a website 10 times for three hours, for example. That’s where Queue-it comes into play and where we make our customers’ lives easier.

Raffles help manage traffic peaks, but they do so by taking the peak offline. This ends up deflating the hype that can be built around a popular online launch. And customers don’t have insight into what is going on, or how the raffle is conducted. Because raffles lack transparency, they score low on perceived fairness. Queue-it creates a highly transparent online experience and channels the hype and social proof that come with traffic peaks.

Q: There are many cases that highly anticipated tickets or goods were indicated “sold out” in a matter of minutes, or even seconds, on the platform, leaving many customers frustrated and confused. Can Queue-it’s solution address the problem for end-users during the ordering/ticketing path, and how?

A: News headlines regularly proclaim ticket sellouts in minutes, or even seconds. But that just isn’t possible. If we define a sellout as all announced tickets being sold to real users with a verified payment behind each transaction, the mechanics of a ticket sale show you just can’t sell out in less than twice the cart timeout time, so usually about 20 minutes.

What’s often happening when fans log on to a ticketing platform and see a sellout message after one or two minutes is that all the tickets are reserved. But everyone knows from experience buying concert tickets that you usually coordinate this with friends, and you might be using your phone and your computer. Only one of those sets of reserved tickets will be bought. The others will go back into circulation after the cart timeout runs out.

This means that a fan could log in two minutes after the sale starts and see a “sold out” message, while a friend logging on 10 minutes later could be able to buy tickets. This doesn’t seem fair, and frustrates a lot of fans. It’s a communication problem as much as a technical problem.

Queue-it helps with both aspects. For one, it only allows the number of visitors into the journey who can realistically buy a ticket. When done in a fair, first-in, first-out way, this helps avoid setting fans up for disappointment. For another, real-time communication on the queue page gives enterprises a platform to clarify the situation for their visitors.

Q: What is ‘Queuing Psychology’? And how does Queue-it adopt that in its technology solution and offering, especially in terms of the end-user interface?

A: Queuing psychology is the study of how we experience waiting in line. The core finding of queue psychology research – which might surprise most of your readers – is that how people feel while waiting matters far more than the length of the wait.

For example, have you noticed that waiting in line with a friend seems to go faster than waiting by yourself? Or that being put on hold on the telephone is stressful when you’re not told how long the hold will last? That’s because we perceive occupied waits (where you occupy yourself with doing something else, like talking with a friend) and certain waits (where you know approximately how long the wait will take) as less stressful. The same is true for fair versus unfair waits or explained waits versus unexplained waits.

At Queue-it, we’re guided by the latest queue psychology findings and integrate them into our virtual waiting room solution. For example, our customers can share place in line and estimated waiting time with their visitors. They can send real-time updates to their visitors, for example sharing if certain tickets or products are sold out, and give visitors the option to get an email reminder when it’s their turn in line.

Finally, the virtual waiting room operates on the first-in, first-out principle. So, we strive to tie into queue psychology to provide the occupied, explained, finite, and fair wait that we know creates the best possible waiting experience.

Q: Can Queue-it’s solutions tackle the problem of the use of bots and fraudulent activity in online purchases?

A: Yes, bots and abuse are things we’re keenly aware of at Queue-it. As a global company, we deal with markets that have diverse perspectives on resale, but bots are unpopular the world over.

Bots have two primary advantages over humans: speed and volume. Bot operators use lightning speed across several browsers to circumvent per-customer product limits. By combining superhuman speed with sheer volume, bot operators effortlessly reserve hundreds of products as soon as sales starts.

The good thing is, controlling the inflow of traffic to a website or app gives the business a chance to identify and block the bad bots. For timed launches, like a sneaker release or concert ticket sale, bots often hit the page before the sale starts. Queue-it puts anyone who arrives early to a sale into a “pre-queue”.

Once the sale starts, everyone who arrives early is randomized. This neutralizes the benefit bots have of arriving a few seconds before the sale starts. Our virtual waiting room also offers various tools, from an innovative Machine CAPTCHA test to IP address analysis, to help block bots that try to zoom past genuine users.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Second part: Queue-it eyes Asia expansion amid online sales boom

Amid the face mask mania in Hong Kong, the Queue-it system allows shoppers to line up before entering a retailer's online portal. Photo: Reuters/Queue-it

EJ Insight writer