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Why We Wait In Line For Hours: 'Social Proof'

2:26 PM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
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Some people voluntarily stand in line for lots of things whether it's to shop, to get the latest iPhone or other gadget and they don't mind it.

Some of us would rather not have to stand in line for anything and avoid it like the flu. We also question the sanity of those who do stand in line for hours for stuff.

Well there may be some logic to what appears to be illogical.

Time Magazine did a recent article on the subject of standing in line and why. According to the experts, the best explanation for why consumers wait in line just so that they can hand over money for the newest iPhone or a Black Friday door-buster deal is that ... it's fun?

A New York Times op-ed published over the summer declared in the headline that waiting in line is "torture," and here's why: Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one's life is slipping away. The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis.

Despite the largely universal loathing of lines and time wasting away unnecessarily, it's become commonplace in society today for consumers to willingly, happily volunteer to partake in such torture, waiting in line for hours, if not days, for the latest iPhone or Nike sneakers, as well as for Black Friday sales and rides at Walt Disney World.

What can explain such behavior? Why is it that we can gripe about lines at airports and government offices one second, and then break our backs standing in them outside an Apple Store the next, all the while there are plenty of other, far more reasonable ways to get what we want?

Consumer analysts and marketing researchers offer this explanation, which is puzzling to those of us who try to avoid queues like the plague: Waiting in line is fun, and makes you feel good about yourself.

Wait, what? What about the idea that lines are torture, and that we suffer the "nagging sensation that one's life is slipping away" while waiting in them?

Apparently, stronger psychological forces are at work, at least when it comes to a certain breed of shopper. "The shared experience of waiting is part of what's driving consumer satisfaction," according to the experts cited in a MarketWatch story.

Being surrounded by like-minded consumers, who also have decided that it makes sense to wait in line, is a sign that you're not alone and that your choices on what to buy and how long it's worth standing around to buy it are sound, or "social proof."

Click on Time Magazine to read full article. 

Brad Tuttle, Time Magazine

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