That is the topic of my new column for The Upshot. Here is one excerpt:
Higher prices also skew the customer mix toward wealthier and thus older people, who exert less influence over the purchasing decisions of their peers. They are less likely to text about a concert, put it on their Facebook pages or talk up its reputation to dozens of friends at parties. The younger buyers are usually the ones who make places trendy, thus many sellers use lower prices, with lines if need be, to lure in those individuals and cultivate their loyalties.
The next time you are waiting in line, take consolation in the fact that otherwise you might not have heard of the opportunity in the first place. If we see a line at a club, restaurant or movie, we figure something interesting is going on there, and so lines have become a driver of publicity.
Income inequality also may be encouraging sellers to use lines to better segment the market. The rich line-jump by buying Museum of Modern Art memberships, to see special exhibits before they open, while others line up. Restaurateurs give regular customers prime tables, especially if they are good tippers and order expensive wines, while others can’t get a reservation after 5:30 or before 11 p.m. This may seem unfair, but it extracts higher prices from those able to pay the most for New York’s cultural institutions and restaurants. In fact, the inconvenience of the line helps sell the more expensive line-jumping package to those who don’t have the time or the patience to wait.
Do read the whole thing. There is also this part:
Waiting a bit can also make people more patient, by removing their attention from the immediate here and now and stretching out their time horizons. Some of these positive effects of waiting have been studied by Professors Xianchi Dai of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago in their paper “When Waiting to Choose Increases Patience.”
There’s also evidence that people value some things more if they have to wait for them. Provided it does not dominate your daily life, a bit of waiting can help create a special experience or memory. The people who wait in line for new iPhones rarely need the product immediately. Waiting in line binds them to a community and demonstrates their commitment.
The waiting also heightens the value of anticipation and makes the product seem more exciting. A world where there is nothing to wait in line for is arguably a less interesting place.