Creative Destruction

June 29, 2007

Queuing in Scarcity and Abundance

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery — Brutus @ 3:43 pm

I’ve heard tell that in cultures where scarcity is commonplace, a queue formed outside the doors of a commercial establishment signals the recent delivery of goods. So without even knowing what they’re in line for, people will join the throng waiting patiently to make their purchase. It must be a no-lose situation, where the time committed to standing in line for the purchase of an item one may not really want or need can probably be transformed into profit by immediate resale of one’s purchase to someone in the back of the line whose time may be more valuable than one’s own.

In cultures where abundance is commonplace, a queue formed outside the doors of a commercial establishment signals (sometimes in advance) the delivery to market of goods without a particular perishable date but with a high desirability quotient. For instance, folks will stand in line for hours just to spend the next two hours and $20 watching the latest blockbuster movie. Or the implausible must-have Christmas gift available in limited quantities may spark competition to queue the earliest to be assured of inventory once the item goes on sale to the public. (The Friday after Thanksgiving may be the worst instance, with bargain hunters and sales hounds camped out well in advance of a store’s already ridiculously early business hours, adjusted for the season, of course.)

Today’s release of the Apple iPhone is a fairly unique (if stupid) opportunity to observe supposed scarcity amid abundance, when trend whores scurry and scamper to queue up and camp out in preparation for the first sale of a product that will probably be ubiquitous by, I dunno, maybe the middle of next week. What possible personal advantage, coolness, hipster cred, or bragging rights attach to owning the newest electronic gadget less than a week before everyone else (and by most reports, it will indeed be virtually everyone) is lost on me. Nevertheless, the stories about folks who have been camped out beside the Apple Store since last night in preparation for the 6 P.M. stampede (and trampling, rioting, snatching, scalping, etc.) fall into the can’t-make-this-shit-up category. A true sign o’ the times.

Just in case my attitude toward today’s feeding frenzy isn’t clear, I think it’s pretty pathetic, considering so many other, more important issues competing for our attention other than … shopping. Of course, mea culpa for my bothering to blog about it.



  1. Brutus, I take it you don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving?

    Comment by greywhitie — June 29, 2007 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

  2. Gawd, no.

    Comment by Brutus — June 29, 2007 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  3. Hear, hear! Nice to be in such thorough agreement with you, B.

    It’s a #$!-damn phone, people.

    Comment by Robert — June 29, 2007 @ 6:27 pm | Reply

  4. Brutus, you sure are missing out. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, me and my sis, we would wake up at 2am, change out of our ‘jamas, and speed over to the local mall and stand in line in sub-zero degrees so we can buy enough Este Lauder make-up to last us all year. It’s the only time of the year when fancy cosmetics ever go on sale, so we don’t miss it for nothing! I feel sorry for you, Brutus. You’re missing out on some good purple eye shadow and real real red lipstick!

    Comment by greywhitie — June 29, 2007 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  5. Dudes, dudes, dudes — you’re not gettin’ it. Sure, most of the time queuing is something we do the first time something is offered to the market, based on the seller’s initial guess about demand. We do this for a stock’s initial public offering, or for new cabbage patch dolls.

    But this is more like buying Rolling Stones tickets or the first issue of Harry Potter 7: camping out all night with your fellow fans is part of the fun! It’s not a bug; it’s a feature!

    Don’t wanna spend your time that way? No problem; you’ll still get the same object buying it a little later. But don’t imagine you got the same product. The object is not the (whole) product. At least, not to those who camp.

    Comment by nobody.really — July 1, 2007 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

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