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The misery of queuing – and the latest apps to ease the pain

Nick Booth

queue 210x300 The misery of queuing   and the latest apps to ease the pain

(Getty Images)

When everyone is forging ahead of you and you’re powerless and paralysed that’s not a nightmare – it’s the queue at a supermarket.

Have you ever cursed yourself for joining the wrong queue? Whichever line you join invariably grinds to a halt while those you rejected suddenly start speeding up. It’s no use changing either. As soon as you leave a queue and join another complications will immediately set in. Someone or some glitch will be fouling up the system. Meanwhile, that annoying bloke who was behind you in the queue you left is now disappearing into the distance.

Whether you’re in a traffic jam, the collection point at Argos or the tills at Lidl – your choice of queue is a massive strategic decision. It’s too important to leave it to chance. Which makes it stressful. As we shall see, there are different apps in development to alleviate this pain.

In its mildest form, queue envy is a morale sapping ruination of your shopping or socializing experience. It’s hard to understand how anyone enjoys dining out when they spend half the evening twisting and turning as they try to catch the eye of a waiter. Similarly, you visit a pub to relax, not to spend you time fighting for the attention of a barman who can’t even work out for himself ‘oosnext’.

There are apps on the way to ease this pain. One app allows you to order everything (your drinks or your entire meal) from a menu downloaded onto your phone. You download the menu simply by tapping your phone on a tag, and the rest is done for you by Near Field Communications. NFC comes as standard on most smart phones now.

“We’re only just starting to explore the possibilities of NFC,” says Danile Angle, strategy director for Tamoco, which brings these apps to fruition. Soon you might be able to get, say, The Independent onto your mobile simply by tapping a poster on the bit where a chip is embedded. Or, if you arriving in a new town, you could tap a poster and get a shopping guide sent to your phone.

In its most virulent form, queue fever is life threatening. One of the biggest dangers on motorways are the buffoons who constantly push their way in and out of slow moving traffic lines, risking a crash or a confrontation in the hope of gaining a few yards in the traffic jam. Even when you’re not in mortal danger, queues are robbing you of your life as you stand in the wrong checkout line at the supermarket.

Techsis has some clever apps in development and one could help you join the right queue. You would put in the relative variables (how many people in the queue, number of items, is the punter in front of you carrying coupons, the age and sex of the till operator) and the app will calculate the queue that’s most likely to move fastest.

If a till is being operated by a man, they are statistically likely to be slower to scan all the items, according to research carried out for IT-Footprint. Having scanned all your items, male till operators are less likely to help you pack and more likely to sit there and watch you struggle on your on, says the same study.

An automated system doesn’t always guarantee the quickest service. In a recent test, it proved quicker to actually walk into town and speak to bank staff than attempt to access accounts through phone banking. Technology isn’t always the most important consideration when making a commitment to a queue.

At Heathrow Airport you are currently far better off joining the long queue for manual passport checks, than in joining the queue of techie pioneers who’ve registered their retina scans with the authorities. In four tests, the old fashioned paper based ID proved quicker than the automated queuing systems.

Which is ironic, because Asda has just introduced Airport style mini scanners at high-speed supermarket check-outs in York. They’re like self-scan check-outs and they promise to be three times faster. As your goods pass along a conveyor belt towards the till, the goods are scanned at a rate of 100 items per minute. Nothing is missed because there are multiple devices inspecting your goods from all angles in order to find the bar code.

“All the big retailers are trying to be more service oriented,” says Martin Smethurst, MD at Wincor Nixdorf, the tech firm that built the Asda scanning system. The key is to provide technology that helps you serve yourself, he says. If you go to B&Q now, you can get download videos to tell you how to fix your roof, rather than try asking a staff member for advice.

“If you could download a guide when you enter a supermarket, you could get around a lot quicker,” says Smethurst. Ordering your food from your table on your restaurant table is the way forward, he says. “I love that idea. I hope we see that soon.”


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