You Might Find Yourself In a Virtual Queue This Black Friday
The sale you’ve been waiting to shop has just gone live, and you are ready to hit “buy.” But instead of being able to add an item to your cart and immediately check out as usual, you find yourself placed in an online waiting room of sorts. What’s going on?
If you haven’t encountered a virtual queue yet, you very well might during Black Friday 2022. More retailers (including Walmart) are implementing them as a way to control site traffic and to thwart shopping bots.
We asked a couple experts what shoppers can expect this season: Niels Henrik Sodemann, CEO and co-founder of Queue-it (which creates virtual queues and waiting room experiences for a slew of retailers), and Brock McKeel, SVP, Site Experience at Walmart.
What are Virtual Queues? How do I know I’m in One?
A virtual queue is an online experience shoppers may encounter when trying to make a purchase on a retailer’s website. You may encounter it before you can enter a sale or before you put a product in your cart. In other words, a virtual queue functions similarly to a line you’d enter outside a store or at checkout.
“If you’re shopping online, think of a virtual queue as a line that keeps things fair, neat and orderly so you can get the product you want without worrying about people cutting the line or bots snatching the item,” Que-it’s Sodemann says.
While virtual queue and waiting room experiences vary, there’s often some kind of countdown or wait-time element. You can watch the clock count down. Or, in some cases, you can tell the retailer how you’d like to be notified when your wait is up (or even transfer your place in the queue across devices, so you be alerted on your phone even if you started shopping on your laptop). Here’s an example from Queue-it of what a virtual queue might look like:
When it’s your turn to shop, “You’ll be redirected to the webpage or app you were trying to access, where you can browse and purchase items as you usually would,” Sodemann says.
You’ll likely encounter virtual queues only for high-volume sales and popular items. Don’t expect it for your everyday purchases.
Walmart’s McKeel says Walmart has been rolling out virtual queues (and will continue to do so) for select “high-demand items during sales events.” McKeel says online shoppers who are signed in to their Walmart accounts will be added automatically to the virtual queue if they land on the page of an eligible item. Once in line, they’ll be asked if they want Walmart to “hold their place” while they keep shopping.
“From there, there will be clear banners that let them know their estimated wait time in line, when they can add the item to their cart, and how long the item will remain in their cart before they need to checkout to guarantee purchase,” McKeel says.
Why are Virtual Queues Necessary?
You just want to click “add to cart,” check out and get back to eating turkey and pie. So why this extra step?
To understand why a virtual queue is needed, think about why a physical queue is needed and then consider some of the special challenges online retailers are facing in the world of bots, which can snap up limited online stock in seconds (so that their makers can sell those items at a steep markup).
Imagine, for example, you’ve been standing in line outside the store since 4 a.m. on Black Friday hoping to get the newest gaming console.
“Just as the doors open, a group of obnoxious teens arrive and slip into the store, buying up nearly all the stock,” Sodemann says. “Meanwhile, everyone who’s been waiting in line rushes the doors in a frantic scramble over the few gaming consoles left, wreaking havoc in the store. To add insult to injury, a few minutes later those obnoxious teens have set up a stall next to the store, offering the sold-out gaming consoles at a 200% markup.”
This chaotic experience isn’t much different from the current online retail landscape in 2022.
“It’s frustrating. It’s unfair. And it costs shoppers real money,” Sodemann says.
How Virtual Queues Prevent Chaos, Confusion and Crashes
If you’re an avid Black Friday shopper, you’ve experienced it. You’re ready to shop, but the retailer’s site keeps crashing, the product page of the thing you want keeps crashing, or the site stalls out when you try to add something to your cart or put in your credit card information. That’s because the site is experiencing traffic surges as everyone races to get the deals as soon as they go live.
In many ways, shopping online during Black Friday is like shopping in a cramped store.
“An overloaded website is like a store where the front doors haphazardly lock and unlock. The lights flicker on and off. People push past each other to get products,” Sodemann says. “Cashiers can’t do their job. And products on the shelves disappear and reappear at random.”
A virtual waiting room, like a physical queue, prevents this chaos by controlling the crowds.
So while some might wonder while the “extra” step of a queue is needed, it’s actually preventing a lot of chaos.
“Virtual queuing helps ensure that the greatest number of our customers can purchase hot items during these events,” Walmart’s McKee says. “We know it can be frustrating when customers try to purchase higher demand items and either can’t add to cart or can’t check out before the item is out of stock.”
Virtual queues also have another advantage. You know exactly where you stand. So instead of having to constantly refresh that AirPods Pro product page, or check out before you’re ready (because you’re worried about that gaming console disappearing from your cart), you can keep shopping for other items, watch TV or even spend time with your family until it’s your turn to check out.
“This process communicates to customers more clearly where they are in the process, how much time is left, and if and when they will get their hands on the item — all while allowing them to shop the rest of our site,” McKee says.
How Virtual Queues Stop Bots
Shopping bots (automated computer programs set up to buy products) have challenged retailers and frustrated shoppers for years now in cases where demand exceeds supply. The moment a product is restocked online, it’s gone in seconds – far faster than any human could buy it.
Often, those products are then sold by the bot-makers on the secondary market, at a huge markup.
Virtual queues can help “block these bad actors and level the playing field for genuine customers,” Sodemann says.
Instead of being allowed to purchase something immediately, site users are sent to the virtual queue/waiting room. Then, all those visitors who hit the countdown page are randomized (like a raffle) and then queued up in a randomly assigned order. If more visitors join the race for the product later, they’re placed at the back of the queue. This process nullifies the advantage that’s otherwise given to speedy bots or a faster internet connection.
Plus, retailers can add extra screening, Sodemann says, such as CAPTCHA or even require shoppers to log into their account with the retailer.
“Just like an airport security checkpoint screens passengers before they board their flights, a virtual waiting room acts as a checkpoint between the web page and the purchase path,” Sodemann says.
So, if you’re after one of the hottest products of the year, or a Black Friday doorbuster, be it a popular toy or gaming console or super-discounted TV, get ready to chill in a virtual queue this season. At least you’re not standing in line outside a big-box store before the sun comes up.
The post You Might Find Yourself In a Virtual Queue This Black Friday appeared first on The Real Deal by RetailMeNot.