Shoppers waited overnight outside Ion Orchard for the release of the Louis Vuitton/Supreme collection
Mark Cheong

Why We Love To Queue

We Singaporeans have a long and proud history of queueing.  

iPhone X? Queue. Black Friday discount mattresses? Queue. Gong Cha coming back? Queue. Louis Vuitton x Supreme? Queue. Hello Kitty plush toy? Queue, and get into fights and break a glass door.

But is a free Gong Cha mug or a plushie really worth hours of standing around, sandwiched by strangers? On the face of it, the answer is a definite no. So why then, did hundreds of people still spend ages in line?

Queues started forming Thursday night (Nov 30), ahead of the opening of the new Gong Cha outlet at SingPost Centre in Paya Lebar at noon on Friday.

The new Gong Cha outlet opened at SingPost Centre on Friday. Queues started forming on Thursday night (Credit: Kevin Lim)

It’s easy to chalk things up to kiasu-ism or #fomo, but such throwaway terms barely begin to scratch the surface of why we do it. While kiasuism is certainly a powerful motivator (I mean, it’s what got me through school) I think there are several other forces at play.

Queueing artificially increases the value of the item. The perceived value of something is influenced by what you pay for it. So if you fork out $1,000 for a bag, it will seem more valuable than if you had dropped $10 on it. In the same vein, if I paid six hours of my life for that cup of Gong Cha, I’m going to think it tastes pretty darn delicious.

This also has a social impact, where people assume that a queue in front of something = good. Long queue in front of hawker stall = tasty, which means that more people will join the queue, which in turn drives up the perceived value of the food.

The draw of being an early adopter. Getting something before everyone else confers on the early adopter some kind of exclusive status, a sort of rarity and privilege that money can’t buy.

This is probably why my Facebook feed was awash with pictures of people and their iPhone Xs when the handset first became available. They were hoping that the picture would say “I’m cool, I’m in the know”, and not “I’m exhausted, I just queued 10 hours for this”.

The first customers enter the Japanese discount chain Don Don Donki as it opens at the Orchard Central on Dec 1, 2017

Shoppers queueing outside Japanese discount shop Don Don Donki at Orchard Central (Credit: Alphonsus Chern)

For many of us, queuing 10 mins for the taxi or half an hour at the bank is enough to frazzle our nerves. But there is something qualitatively different about these hyper queues, that set them apart from the sort that you encounter in daily life.

There’s a community. Most people queue for things with friends or family, where it’s easier to kill time with banter and keep each others’ spirits up. Even among strangers, standing in the same line can foster a sense of community, which makes queueing a less isolated experience.

Queueing is a rite of passage. Standing in line for a product can make you a “real fanboy”. Also, many queues, especially for big tech releases, have a festive, almost carnival-like atmosphere where everyone is hyped to get their hands on the product.

When I queued up for the iPad 2 in London years ago (I know, don’t judge me), the wait was punctuated by news crews interviewing people in the crowd, and food vendors giving out free samples of their products.

Companies are smart. Companies have developed strategies to make waits seem less daunting. At Disney, you can play video games while waiting for your turn to ride. Other attractions, such as Halloween Horror Nights, have managed to monetize this by charging users a premium to beat the queue.

The queue for the new iPhone X outside the Apple store on Orchard Road on Nov 2, 2017

People waiting in line at Orchard Road for the launch of the iPhone X (Credit: Jonathan Choo) 

We only remember the good bits. Research has thrown up something called the Peak-End Rule, which states that people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end.

In other words, once you get your hands on that Louis Vuitton/Supreme jacket, the boredom and dreariness of the wait will be overshadowed by the immense happiness of putting it on. For me, when I walked out of the Apple store with my brand new iPad, the employees formed a line and started clapping and cheering as if I’d won an Olympic medal.

This also means that you’ll  be left with an overall positive impression of the queuing experience, and be more likely to do it again in future.

At the end of day, the drive to queue is a heady mix of psychological factors, some of which make more sense than others. While some of us may scoff at the idea of standing in line for anything, to others, what’s at the end of the queue is definitely worth the wait.