Aisles Abroad is a regular feature that examines notable grocery initiatives outside the U.S.
Sometimes innovation means slowing down operations rather than speeding them up. That’s the approach Dutch supermarket operator Jumbo has taken with its Kletskassa — which translates to “chat checkout” in English.
Just like the name suggests, these checkout counters allow customers and cashiers to leisurely chat with each other.
Jumbo first rolled out the chat checkouts in the summer of 2019 as part of the Dutch government's campaign to fight loneliness and now positions them, alongside “chat corners” where people can enjoy coffee and small talk, as part of community-building efforts.
The chat corners, which are managed by a local foundation, help older people connect with residents and volunteers, who can help with gardening and grocery shopping, news outlets reported.
Jumbo, which has more than 700 stores in the Netherlands and Belgium, has been expanding the slow checkouts, following positive feedback from their debut. As of early March, Jumbo had more than 125 slow checkouts across the Netherlands and Belgium, a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email.
Beyond the feel-good headlines, Jumbo’s initiative shines a spotlight on how grocers can create new in-store experiences, better utilize store associates to connect with consumers and improve service for not just older populations, but also specific consumer segments.
The news also stands in contrast to the sweeping movement toward faster, frictionless — and often more impersonal — checkout experiences enabled by cutting-edge technology like self-checkout terminals and Amazon’s Just Walk Out system.
While Jumbo has received a lot of recent press about its initiative, it’s not the only grocer to turn to this type of concept. French supermarket chain Carrefour has a similar concept called Blablabla Caisses, which translates to “Blablabla checkouts.” Canadian grocer Sobeys also has a slow checkout lane at one of its stores.
“I don't see any reason why it will not work in almost every geography,” Stewart Samuel, director of retail futures for IGD, said about the slower, chattier checkout model. “We know that there's an aging population in most western markets and also the aging population is increasingly isolated [with] more single households.”
Cravings for connection
While the pandemic has placed a spotlight on loneliness and underserved populations, Jumbo’s work on the chat checkouts started pre-pandemic.
Jumbo prioritizes selecting stores in areas “where loneliness is prevalent” for adding its chat checkouts, the company said in a press release.
Colette Cloosterman-van Eerd, chairman of the company’s supervisory board and a leader of the Dutch National Coalition Against Loneliness, has helped spearhead the grocer’s chat checkout initiative.
The chat checkouts and corners aren’t the only efforts by the grocer to reduce loneliness. Cloosterman-van Eerd said in a statement that Jumbo has a handbook, which was prepared in collaboration with the Dutch government’s One Against Loneliness initiative, that helps store employees identify lonely customers.
Samuel said he likes the pairing of the chat checkouts with the chat corners, noting that a dedicated space for older consumers could serve as a launching point for events and loyalty program offers.
While younger shoppers often prefer faster service and convenience when shopping, Samuel noted that slow checkouts can appeal to a broader array of shoppers in addition to older ones.
“We shouldn't assume that it's only elderly shoppers who want that connection and conversation in store as well, right? I'm sure [there are] people across every age demographic who do want some element of that,” Samuel said.
For workers, slow checkouts may help boost job satisfaction among cashiers. Cloosterman-van Eerd of Jumbo said in a statement that many of the grocer’s cashiers want to work at the chat checkout.
“They are very sympathetic towards the initiative and want to help people and really connect with them based on genuine interest,” Cloosterman-van Eerd said. “It's a small but very valuable gesture, particularly in a world that is digitising and speeding up so fast.”
Samuel pointed out that a slow social lane at a Sobeys store in Edmonton, Alberta, was started by a cashier who likes to chat with customers and who wears unique hats to stand out.
Belmont @Sobeys in Edmonton has introduced a Social SLOW checkout lane after realizing some people enjoy chatting while paying for their groceries— Alexandria Fisher (@AlexandriaESG) January 20, 2023
Kudos for adapting customer service to reflect changing customer needs
My preference remains in person with limited conversation pic.twitter.com/MbTAvJuZHk
“We’ve moved away from the days where cashiers are just sort of assessed on volume throughput,” Samuel said. “Retailers look at more of the total sort of customer experience now, rather than just speed through the checkout.”
Retailers that have created labor savings through areas like self-checkouts and other innovations can reinvest in other parts of the checkout experience, such as having a slow checkout lane, Samuel said.
The need to accommodate an aging population
The slow checkout concept stands out against recent front-end innovations like scan-and-go and self-service kiosks, which could help create a differentiator for companies, Samuel said.
“As we continue to see more self-checkouts grow, it could be a good contrast here as well,” Samuel said about the U.S.
While the adoption of slow checkouts will vary based on store location, staffing capabilities, customer demographics and other factors, Samuel said he could generally see about one of these types of checkout counters per store.
The U.S. population is aging. People ages 65 and older accounted for 17% of the U.S. population in 2020, and that demographic is expected to grow to 22% by 2040, per a report from the Administration on Aging, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“As we get further along this track with the [shifting] demographics, retailers will start to make more changes in the store that reflect the very, very different needs” of aging shoppers, Samuel said.
Those changes can include “simple things” like like wider aisles, more seating in the aisles, attaching magnifying glasses to the shelf edge to make the print more readable and better lighting, he said.
Slow checkouts for chatting can be a low-cost solution to better serve not only older shoppers, but anyone grappling with loneliness, Samuel said.
“I'm pretty sure it'll catch on. Others will definitely love to do this because it's a good customer service, but it's also generally good, positive coverage for the retailer as well,” Samuel said.