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October 16, 2021

Why shoppers really insist on lining up for Apple products

Samsung, if you haven’t seen, has got a great ad campaign out now, spoofing the line-waiting culture that’s grown from Apple’s iPhone.

800px-AppleStore_DoncasterThe TV commercials must be a hit, if not payback for Apple’s taking Samsung to the cleaners over smartphone patent squabbles, but their satire also highlights a more serious point: why, really, do consumers insist on waiting in line for products?

Line-waiting is nothing Apple has created. In fact, it merely hearkens to Black Friday, or all the way back to the days of Furby and Tickle Me Elmo.

Though is there really a science behind what prompts consumers to camp out? It would appear there is.

While we’ve established Apple did not father the line-waiting culture, we also must acknowledge the company’s perfected it, too. Think back to every notable line-waiting moment in the past half-decade, and most all of them coincide with the release of an iPhone or iPad.

*Bing: Is the new iPhone right for you?

Ultimately, we can thank Apple’s unparalleled ability to hype and pimp a product – the true legacy, perhaps, of Steve Jobs – for stirring consumers’ need to camp out for phones and tablets, an effect that drums up a sense of scarcity among shoppers. If I don’t get my hands on this now, the thinking goes, it’ll be weeks before I will.

But MarketWatch shines a light on what truly prompts shoppers to wait out for new products.

According to marketing experts interviewed by the site’s Charles Passy, the shared experience of waiting in line with a group of people has become almost a reward unto itself.

Calling the coolness of waiting in line “queue chic,” Passy proves that “shopping has become a collective event,” in the words of one brand consultant he interviews.

“Retail experts say that by standing in a crowd, shoppers see themselves as making the right decision – a concept known as ‘social proof,’” Passy writes. (Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people presume the cumulative actions of a group reflect what’s right in any given scenario.)

Retailers, of course, love this, as a line-up in front of a store – think a massive queue at the door of your city’s hottest nightclub – helps simulate the feeling of exclusivity. And that breeds the sense of scarcity we discussed above, and the whole thing comes full circle.

For many, then, while a new iPad at the end doesn’t hurt, the true reward of lining up for an Apple tablet may lie in the waiting itself.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...