No cronut for you! Why people willingly wait in long lines

There is an economic -- and psychological -- explanation for waiting in long lines for for seemingly innocuous products.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Any fan of the 1990s show Seinfeld will remember with fondness the infamous "Soup Nazi," the soup stand restauranteur who would deny an order to customer who did not follow proper procedures -- even though they may have waited two hours in line for a taste of the broth.

There is an economic explanation for waiting in long lines for for seemingly innocuous products. That is, the principle of scarcity -- the scarcer an item or commodity is perceived to be, the more willing people are to go out of their way and pay more for it. Often, advertisers will talk about "limited editions" of their products.

Photo credit: Dominique Ansel website news section

But there is also a psychological explanation as well. Behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, writing in FastCompany, talks about long lines that have been queuing up every morning in Manhattan for "cronuts," sugar-rolled, cream-filled, glaze-topped doughnut-croissant hybrids that are sold at the Dominique Ansel bakery.

The trouble is, the bakery only makes 200 to 250 cronuts a day. The bakery is on to something here -- Gino notes that the bakery's Website provides advice and rules about qualifying to purchase the $5 cronuts: "customers are encouraged to line up two hours prior to the bakery's usual opening time of 8 a.m. They are warned that they will only be allowed to purchase two cronuts per person, and they are asked not to do business with cronut scalpers." Reportedly, some customers in a rush have ponied up $30 for the cronuts.

What's making people do this? Gino suggests that consumers tend to be subject to "self-signaling"-- "that is, making decisions that communicate to ourselves the type of person we view ourselves to be." And part of that drive is to be with it, attuned to the latest hot trend, fad or item. Witness peoples' willingness to wait in long lines to buy the latest Apple iPhone, though they could just come back a week later with no fuss or muss. Or the long lines for popular rides at Disney or other amusement parks.

Such thinking suggests companies may not be doing themselves any favors by producing more items or rides to ease the lines. There's a part of us that wants to be where the action is -- by going where the crowd is.

If not, then no cronut for you.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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