Trading human contact for efficiency

jJan. 27, 2023
by Ivan Raconteur

The Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo has adopted an initiative that is both innovative and retro.

The company implemented kletskassa, which translates to “chat checkouts.” Unlike other checkout lanes in the store, where the goal is to get customers through the line quickly and efficiently, the chat checkouts operate at a slower pace and actually invite customers to take a moment to chat while their items are rung up.

The motivation is simple. The program seeks to combat loneliness among its customers, especially senior citizens. It was developed in conjunction with a program created by the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport.

The approach is innovative because it offers an option for customers who value human contact more than speed, and it is retro because it is similar to the way business used to be done.

In addition to the chat checkouts, the company offers chat corners, which offer coffee and an opportunity for customers to socialize.

Why is this important?

According to the National Institute on Aging, “Human beings are social creatures. Our connection to others enables us to survive and thrive. Yet, as we age, many of us are alone more often than when we were younger, leaving us vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness — and related health problems such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease.”

For some people, days can go by when the only human contact they experience is when they visit local businesses. I have experienced this myself since medical issues limited my mobility.

Although I have always been independent, I feel fortunate to live in a small town where I know that when I stop at local stores, the staff and friends I might encounter greet me by name and are always ready with a kind word and a friendly smile. As we get older, we can become more isolated. I suspect it is even worse in large cities.

Why would this matter to a grocery store chain? Perhaps the company cares about the health and welfare of its customers.

As I thought about the programs at Jumbo supermarkets, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between them and trends in some other places.

For example, I refuse to shop at stores that effectively force customers to use self-checkout lanes. If I wanted to be a cashier, I’d apply for a job. These checkouts may save the companies money, but they definitely remove any human contact.

Other stores use “smart carts” that scan items while customers shop. Still, others offer apps that allow customers to scan items and pay for their purchases on their phones, thus eliminating the need to go through checkout lines at all.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but if I am going to fork over my money to a store, I expect the company to at least acknowledge my existence.

And regarding efficiency, if we are so busy that we need to be able to check out instantly without any human contact, perhaps it’s time to examine our priorities.

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