You have been there: You are standing in a line holding huge packages going to the post office, and there’s that kind elderly person at the wicket chatting away to the post office staff about how a postcard that costs 25 cents now needs a stamp that costs over one dollar.
That moment of contact with post office staff may be the only person to person contact that elderly person is able to receive in a day, and globally surveys suggest that one in three seniors experience loneliness, or a lack of contact with other people.
A few years ago, the Jumbo grocery store in Vlijmen, Netherlands realized that the seniors in their community saw the grocery store experience differently. The town with a population of 14,000 had many seniors in the community that had grown up using the grocery store’s services, and also saw the grocery store as their centre of community.
The Jumbo supermarket created two initiatives: the first was a “Chat Checkout” (or Kletskassa in Dutch) grocery line check out where cashiers are invited to slow down the transaction time of scanning and bagging groceries, and are instead encouraged to talk with their customers.
The second initiative has been adding a conversation corner for seniors where they can sit in the store with other locals and talk. The “All Together” coffee corner has also partnered with a Foundation that provides volunteers to run the coffee corners, and the Jumbo supermarket chain provides the coffee and the space.
These two initiatives are fully supported by the management of the supermarket chain. While supermarkets look for cost reduction and advocating self checkouts, they also realized that this did nothing for the social interaction of their older clientele who had other needs for community contact.
Post pandemic, Jumbo supermarkets are partnering with the national ministry of health to open another 200 slow checkout lanes and coffee corners in other stores across the country.
This is similar to the initiative taken up by the now defunct Woodward’s Stores in Vancouver. In 1980 the Manager of Employee Benefits suggested that the retirees of this department store chain should form a club, which was incorporated in 1983. Called the “Woodpens” Club this was firstly open to retired employees of Woodward’s, and later was open to any senior. There is still a location in the Oakridge Mall operated by the Oakridge Seniors’ Society .
The society provides lunches and seniors’ programming in one of the first seniors’ centres in Vancouver.
The charter for the Woodward’s Woodpens Club was to continue fellowship and a spirit of mutual helpfulness, and to promote happiness, well-being and usefulness. The goals are much the same as the slow lane checkout and coffee corners in the Netherlands, to keep seniors engaged and happy.
You can take a look at the video below which looks at the opening of the coffee corners in Jumbo Supermarkets, and also shows how the Chat Checkouts/Slow Lanes work. It’s in Dutch, but the meaning comes through in any language.