Last Place Aversion in Queues

by Ryan W. Buell

Overview — While no one likes standing in line for service, being last intensifies the pain of waiting, doubles the probability of switching queues, and quadruples the chances of leaving the line altogether. Many service settings could be improved if managers actively mitigated last place aversion.

Author Abstract

This paper investigates whether people exhibit last place aversion in queues and its implications for their experiences and behaviors in service environments. An observational analysis of customers queuing at a grocery store, and three online field experiments in which participants waited in virtual queues, revealed that waiting in last place diminishes wait satisfaction while increasing the probabilities of switching and abandoning queues. After controlling for other factors, people in last place were more than twice as likely to switch queues, which increased the duration of their wait and diminished their overall satisfaction. Moreover, people in last place were more than four times more likely to renege from queues, altogether giving up on the service for which they were queuing. The results indicate that this behavior is partially explained by the inability to make a downward social comparison; namely, when no one is behind a queuing individual, that person is less certain that continuing to wait is worthwhile. Furthermore, this paper provides evidence that queue transparency is an effective service design lever that managers can use to reduce the deleterious effects of last place aversion in queues. When people can't see that they're in last place, the behavioral effects of last place aversion are nullified, and when they can see that they're not in last place, the tendency to renege is greatly diminished.

Paper Information