Fast Come Fast Served

No, this is not a spelling mistake.

Last Monday I woke up to see a sad face of my wife. I forgot to bring milk for my 2.5 year old son the earlier night and we did not have any milk in the stock. My son’s pre-school starts early and he takes a glass of milk before leaving home. So I had to run out to collect a pack of milk for him. Thank God I had Spencer retail shop just beside my house. It was an empty shop in the early morning. I rushed into the shop, picked up the pack of milk from the dairy section and quickly came to the billing section only to find myself behind a person with basket-full of products in the solitary open billing counter. I had to wait for 15 minutes in the billing counter to get my milk pack. My wife was visibly angry when I reached home late.

Equitable wait, i.e, the extent of wait is proportional to the volume of the basket or the need of the consumers, is one of the very important expectations of the consumers, more so in the service setups. For instance, an aged person will hate to wait while buying products from physical retail stores. He might expect some relaxation of the first come first served rule that is religiously followed in most retail stores. Similarly, in the above incident, I was looking for a billing counter which is only for low volume basket holders. Loyal or high value customers for retail stores may also look for lower check out time than others. Retailers should start focusing on such expectations of consumers who want to come to the counter fast and get served fast, or “fast come fast served”.

There are some modern retailers who are adopting such strategy. The Spencer shop in South City Mall, Kolkata or the HyperCity shop in Minakshi Mall, Bangalore has billing counters for smaller baskets. Pantaloons has priority check out lines for loyalty card holders. But still consumer expectations go on increasing.

To study the impact of violations of equitable wait I ran a set of experiments. What I found is if Spencer would have allowed me to check out before the person standing ahead of me, the wait for the person would have increased only 1 minute, well within his range of acceptable equitable wait. So he would have not been dissatisfied and I would have faced a less angry face at home.

In my experiments I also found that the impact of violation of equitable wait will be worse when retailer could have taken actions to avoid such violations. In simple words, if the consumer think that the retailer had the control on ensuring equitable wait but still he did not, then the impact of such insensitivity will be more detrimental. For instance, in case of Spencer, I could see that there are other counters available but closed and there were service men available but were chatting with each other. This led to a higher dissatisfaction because I knew if they wanted they could have ensured a faster checkout for me. I will not expect the low-basket-size-checkout line for a smaller organized retail shop like Aditya Birla’s More shops having only 2-3 check out counters. But I will expect this from HyperCity or Spencer, because they do not have that capacity constraint of opening more check out lines.

Last but not the least is the impact of relationship strength on the detrimental effect of this violation. I found that for high relationship strength such effect is more due to consumer betrayal. So, a loyal customer will be more pissed than a normal customer if he faces this kind of violation of equitable wait. This suggests that retailers should be more careful about their loyal customers because they can be more harmful than normal customers in this kind of violations. One suggestion for Spencer or HyperCity can be special line for loyal customers with smaller basket sizes (a check out line catering to the interaction of relationship strength and low basket size).

Whatever be the steps, retailers should be aware that ‘fast come fast served’ is as important as ‘first come first served’ in the retail setting, if not more.

*For the full research paper, please write to me at

*Photo Courtesy:



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