Some things are worth the wait

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2012 - 9:04 PM

The latest iPhone release is proof that even the most impatient people will wait if it's something they want.

Ten minutes in line for a sandwich is too much.

Ten hours in line for an iPhone 5 is a party.

Rashard Keen, who estimates he'd wait no more than 20 minutes for lunch, waited all night for the Apple store in Uptown Minneapolis to open Friday morning. He watched a movie on his iPad with those nearby and ordered dinner -- delivery, of course, so he could stay in line -- from a nearby restaurant.

"It's the hype. You fall in love with an item and get addicted to it," said Keen, 29. "It's a game, too, to come out here and beat the crowds."

Hordes of Apple fanboys and girls lined up across the Twin Cities to get their hands on the superstar tech company's latest offering, and while most people bristle at the thought of sitting in traffic or being put on hold, some seek out the chance to be the first, be in the wolfpack. And are happy about it.

"They pat each other on the back and say, 'Aren't we cool? We're in this line,'" said Richard Larson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies queues. "Instead of a negative temporary imprisonment forced by somebody else, you and your friends decide to join this and make a social event of it."

The Mall of America opened one entrance at 5:30 a.m. Friday to let shoppers line up before the Apple store's 8 a.m. opening. At Rosedale Center, the food court opened at midnight for those who felt the urge to camp out.

Lines formed even though people could buy online for home delivery -- 2 million people did in the first 24 hours of pre-sale.

Whether or not people opt for such extreme measures comes down to a trade-off in time and reward.

Larson puts it this way: Shoppers will wait in a long line if they have a cart full of groceries, but they get antsy if they're just buying a dozen eggs. Lots of time, little to show for it.

Research has also shown that people who have joined a line are more likely to stick with it as it grows longer behind them. It reinforces the demand for an item and implies they'll have to wait even longer if they come back later.

And people are less likely to get frustrated if the line honors the rule of first-come, first-served. Even better, offer some entertainment or sense of community. After all, people tend to queue up for what they're passionate about, from gadgets and book signings to concerts and craft beer.

Sometimes it's driven by fear of losing an opportunity.

"If everybody is joining the line or a line is forming, there's a message in there that it is probably the smart thing to do," said Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the Carlson School of Management. "If I don't get in line, I might lose out."

At the Mall of America -- Minnesota's mecca of special-event lines -- people have even been known to queue without knowing what for.

"That happens quite often on Black Friday," said Bridget Jewell, a mall spokeswoman. "They'll be like, 'Wait, what's this line for?'"

Omar Ansari, president of Surly Brewing, has never lined up for an iPhone, but he said he was shocked when the first release of their special Russian Imperial Stout prompted overnight lines outside his company's headquarters.

Beer enthusiasts by the hundreds now come from around the country to camp out before the release on "Darkness Day," Oct. 27 this year. They set up grills, play music and share microbrews with new friends they meet in line.

Some people complained about having to show up early or risk missing out, so Surly started selling its once-a-year specialty beer in a limited number of liquor stores, too. But that hasn't stopped the festive lineup.

"Every year we're like, 'Wow, really? Look what people are willing to do,'" Ansari said. "It's funny, because people seem to love waiting for stuff they want."

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

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