How do you avoid standing in line

Corona crisis: why she could herald the end of queuing

In the pandemic, rich and poor are the same - while standing in line. The queue in front of the Louis Vuitton store on the Kö, the Düsseldorf Prachtzeile, has been a constant phenomenon since the end of the first lockdown, and people are lined up in front of the Gucci store with distance and mouth and nose protection. Security guards ensure order.

But people also stand in front of the post offices until they hold their parcels with books or toilet paper rolls ordered on the Internet in their hands. The waiting time in front of the Düsseldorf main post office last Saturday was just under an hour.

Immediately before the autumn vacation, 150 families lined up in front of the container of the private corona test center of the ZotzKlimas laboratory who wanted to go on vacation with the help of a negative test. Here the waiting time outdoors was up to three hours.

Corporations such as VW and Swiss Post check employees for viruses themselves. The demand for corona tests is causing a boom among laboratory operators and container rental companies - and amazing innovations.
by Nele Husmann, Jürgen Salz

The waiting time is particularly annoying at the moment: it not only feels wasted, but also dangerous. Despite masks and distance rules, many are afraid of being infected while waiting.

Therefore, the demand for new technologies that want to put an end to long queues is growing. Architects, amusement park designers and engineers have been working on this for a long time. You do not only want to shorten waiting times through better management, but also completely eliminate them with the help of registration systems fed with real-time data. At the same time, marketing experts are working on reaching people who are waiting with advertising messages. The uncrowned king of waiting time management, the American company Walt Disney, serves as a model.

The New York market research company Business Market Insight estimates that spending on queue management systems in Europe will increase by six percent annually to $ 173 million over the next seven years.

In June in the American state of Michigan, it became clear that fears of infections are not unfounded. When the popular Harpers Brew Pub in East Lansing was allowed to reopen at half its capacity, the staff marked the distances between the waiting people with stickers. That couldn't tame the masses of students waiting on the sidewalk to be admitted. 200 infections can be traced back to this queue.

It is particularly common for people to line up in front of a supermarket checkout. The medium-sized wagon manufacturer Bizerba from the Swabian town of Balingen wants to abolish the phenomenon - and is even competing with the US retail giant Amazon. “Supersmart powered by Bizerba” allows customers to shop without a checkout. The innovative system, which relies on the interaction of cars, cameras and AI, is already in use in a shop near Würzburg. Metro has already used the system in several of its cash and carry markets in Turkey and the Czech Republic and is planning a worldwide roll-out.

The buyer scans every product that he puts in his car with an app on his mobile phone. At the end of the shopping process, scales check whether the weight in the shopping cart matches that of the scanned goods. If there is a discrepancy, the artificial intelligence can quickly identify the unscanned product from an analysis of the filmed recordings, the historical buying behavior of the buyer and the additional weight. Bizerba developed the technology together with the Israeli start-up SuperSmart, in which the company has recently acquired a stake of almost 50 percent. Compared to Amazon checkout technology, which relies entirely on image analysis, the process has the advantage that no sensors and cameras need to be installed, which is a complex process. "The investment is very manageable for the store," says Bizerba spokesman Markus Ketterer. "And the technology also works with a large range."

Queuing at airports is actually a perennial issue. But in Corona times, life is much more relaxed here. While clowns and jugglers were still used at Frankfurt Airport last year to pass the time in the check-in and security lines for the masses of passengers at the beginning of the holiday, today simple, yellow spacer stickers on the floor are sufficient. The number of passengers in Frankfurt fell from 200,000 to 25,000 a day.

Düsseldorf Airport uses simulation software to guide passenger flows and manage waiting times. They are already available on the website so that passengers can time their arrival times. As a next step, the airport is planning to use "digital queuing". Travelers register on an app and are called up in real time instead of physically queuing.

American airports use the Corona time to upgrade - the provider Lavi Industries now has webbing stands on offer that are upgraded with a "Germ Shield" made of Plexiglas. The architecture firm Fentress, who designed the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles Airport, suggests completely abolishing the serpentine serpentines and instead positioning the people in several rows next to each other and separated by partitions so that they at least can no longer breathe . The new Salt Lake City Airport, which opened in September, is particularly noticeable due to its large amount of space in waiting areas - although it was designed before the pandemic broke out. Magnets embedded in the terrazzo floor of the check-in hall ensure that the webbing stands can be flexibly adapted to the flow of passengers. And the toilets have two entrances so that people don't have to come towards each other.

The line in line

The entertainment group Disney with its amusement parks is the master of queue management. The company is credited with inventing the "switchback snake" that winds back and forth for the 1964-65 World's Fair. Since then, the group has perfected the art of letting go with murals, art and sophisticated ideas to entertain and distract people in their queues. With the so-called "Secret Switchback", the customer does not even notice that he is walking through a line that feels linear, but secretly walks through a whole labyrinth of excitingly designed rooms. Since the Disney Parks were allowed to reopen after the lockdown, they have suspended the “FastTrack”, where shorter waiting times can be booked for an additional charge. However, visitors are encouraged to use the app to order food, for example, while waiting - a concept that experts call the "queue in line".

The ZotzKlimas laboratory is also currently testing a technological solution to get the sometimes long lines in front of its twelve test centers under control. Because the longest part of the waiting time is caused by the registration of customers and the collection of their health insurance data. "We are now offering an app where customers can register at home so that they can go straight to the smear with a QR code after a scan," says Michael Walter, the laboratory's head of marketing.

Queuing as an advertising measure

Even standing in line in front of the Apple store for the launch of a new iPhone is no longer considered iconic. In the meantime, store visitors have to book the sales pitch with an employee in advance because the store's capacity limit is quickly reached. For the launch of the iPhone 12 two weeks ago, employees issued very old-fashioned reservation forms that assigned waiting people to a time slot so that they could come back later. There were also “Express Storefronts” where buyers could pick up their new IPhone on the sidewalk without entering the store.

The display of the remaining waiting time is a very promising tool for queue management: According to research by David Stewart-David from the University of Northumbria in England, people who leave a queue annoyed usually overestimate their waiting time enormously. The British, for example, are only willing to stand in line for three to four minutes. Incidentally, the slowest queues are said to be in France and Sweden, the shortest in Germany and Hungary and the fastest in Finland, Denmark and England. But of course that was before Corona.

MIT researcher Brian Subirana and his team have designed an artificial intelligence that corona infected people can recognize by the sound of their coughing. That could help fight the pandemic.

Providers of intelligent, digital monitors that count the number of customers in a store and use a traffic light system to indicate whether they are allowed to enter, smell the morning air. In North Rhine-Westphalia, 80 percent of the purchase of a monitor as part of the “digitization of retail” is funded with taxpayers' money. The adoption of "digital signage" is still slow: "There are around 15 percent ignoramuses who simply walk into the shops despite the red signal", says Fabian Scholz, founder of the provider Komma, tec from Hamburg. He is currently testing a pilot monitor system at the AOK health insurance company and at an Edeka grocery store.

Scholz is now considering that the monitors make the most sense in connection with security personnel: “So one of the two to three bodyguards who, for example, manage the entrances to the Bauhaus DIY chain, could replace one with an electronic display.” The idea that In his opinion, getting the waiting people excited about the products of the store with advertising films has not yet sparked off in Germany: “The USA and Asia are further along. Advertising agencies sell the devices there and not technology providers like in this country. "

But the queues will probably not be completely abolished, because despite everything they also work like free advertising. “Long queues can ensure that more customers are interested in a product,” says Mirko Kremer from the Frankfurt School of Finance, who researches the subject of queues. "When someone sees that so many people are ready to queue, they conclude that the product has great value."

More on the subject: Face recognition has become an indispensable part of everyday life. Wearing mouth and nose protection, however, irritates the systems.

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