Start-up takes the wait out of queuing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am


Attention, busy people of Hong Kong: a new mobile service to be launched in the city might just save you up to 30 minutes a day.

QLess, a US-based start-up, aims to free people from the need to wait in line at stores.

The system is straightforward - a business owner uses his store's computer to link up over a website with would-be patrons who have previously given their mobile phone numbers. The consumer is given a 'virtual' place in the line and informed with a call or text message when their turn has arrived. They are free to wander around or take care of other tasks in the meantime.

QLess is preparing to launch in Hong Kong at the suggestion of Professor Gino Yu at Polytechnic University, and has set up offices and a team in the past month. 'QLess summons people predictively, and allows them to ask for as much advanced notice as they want,' said chief executive and founder, Dr Alex Backer.

Restaurants with their call-out lists, paper slips and digital beepers have been supplying this service for years. But QLess is taking advantage of the digital revolution to expand the service to other businesses - in the United States for example, doctor's offices or the driving permit bureau.

The programme analyses data on how fast queues moved in the past at a business to predict future wait times. It notes when a virtual queuer is a no-show, so companies can keep track of who's cheating the system. Nevertheless those who show up at a restaurant in person may grow frustrated with this new system when people who called or texted just minutes earlier get a table ahead of them.

There is another possible drawback, says Dilip Soman, who studied the psychology involved in queuing in Hong Kong in 2003. A professor of marketing at the University of Toronto, Soman cautions: 'When I'm in the waiting area of a busy and crowded dim sum restaurant, I have a good sense of the state of affairs. But now imagine this restaurant used QLess. I could be in a situation where the restaurant is actually busier, but it may appear less so.'