Should grocers open slow checkout lanes for seniors?

Discussion
Mar 06, 2017
Tom Ryan

A university study from the U.K. recommends that grocers establish a slow checkout lane to improve the shopping experience for the elderly.

The suggestion would address a primary shopping gripe from my 90-year-old mother, who feels rushed after checking out in having to quickly put the keys containing her loyalty keyfob, credit card and change in her purse with some shopper lurking behind her.

The study from the University of Hertfordshire found “over 60s” largely desired slow checkout lanes in order to talk to grocery staff.

Indeed, Hertfordshire residents aged between 60 and 93 interviewed as part of the nine-month study stressed how much they valued the opportunity for social interaction that comes with shopping trips. No one interviewed shopped online for food, even though most households regularly accessed the internet.

The authors concluded that encouraging the elderly to shop online could have unintended consequences, potentially increasing social isolation and reducing opportunities for community interaction and exercise that shopping brings.

“Our research shows older people are more likely to have a wide range of factors working against them when it comes to sourcing, buying and preparing food,” said Wendy Wills, director of the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at University of Hertfordshire.

Other insights from the study:

  • More seating and toilets would help older customers shop in comfort.
  • Encouraging older people to shop at quieter times of the week — by introducing special offers for the over 60s during specific time periods — could make the supermarket a less stressful and more enjoyable environment.
  • Too many deals tied to BOGO or minimum-purchaserequirements favor families. Older generations need deals for items they can carry home easily and help them minimize waste.
  • Nutrition advice is biased towards preventing obesity. The elderly need more information around avoiding malnutrition and dehydration and ensuring food is safe to eat.
  • Supplementing shopping trips with online purchases of heavier and bulkier items could support the benefits of social interaction while “prolonging their independence.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the pros and cons of offering slow checkout lanes for the elderly? What do you think of the other recommendations from the University of Hertfordshire study? Can you add any other ways stores could better cater to the “over 60s”?

Braintrust
"Boy, there’s a slippery slope here!"
"In some ways, the slow lane recommendation borders on discrimination...."
"Ok, I have to admit that I qualify for the slow lane. Would I use it? Only if there were no one in it so I could get out of the store faster."

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25 Comments on "Should grocers open slow checkout lanes for seniors?"

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Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Brilliant idea! We are excited to cater retail to Millennials and Generation Z (still in school), but we can’t forget about the aging Boomer population and the Silent Generation (born 1945 and earlier).

This seems counterintuitive in our fast-paced world. You may want to augment the experience with a Pepper-like robot attending to those in the line with some commentary and discussion points. If Pepper can be programmed to remember customers, and previous conversations, that might endear these customers and spike loyalty (there’s a term we don’t hear much about anymore).

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think this is more a cashier training opportunity than anything. If they get annoyed with an older shopper, it follows the older shopper will feel rushed. I would add it is a slippery slope to specific lanes — how about one just for people who write checks? How about one for those with coupons? How about one for WIC? And what happens when the oldies lane is empty but you have a Millennial mother and kids? Does the cashier just stand there? You get my point — at what point does segmentation add sales, and at what point would it be economically unworkable?

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I have to agree — this is a training opportunity for associates. Let’s face it, those older shoppers want to interact while they are in the store. But what are brands training their associates to do? Move quickly, speed up the line, get things answered fast and move on to the next task/customer. That’s what this study is really saying to us.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Boy, there’s a slippery slope here! I’d be worried about other groups wanting their own lanes too (which could create interesting marketing opportunities for my easily-distracted Millennial). Tell your mom to take her time. Tell others to stay out of the stores on Wednesday mornings here in Atlanta, when senior citizens get bused from their homes to the stores.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Gosh, I don’t quite know what to say about this study.

In some ways, the slow lane recommendation borders on discrimination (even if optional … I can’t even imagine my 92-year-old mother saying, “yes, put me in the slow person’s lane,” and I can’t imagine most 60- to 70-year-olds even thinking that they’d want to be part of this.

I think I would be incredibly insulted if someone came up to me and gently said “Perhaps you’d do better coming on Tuesdays at 10 … it’s quieter then.”

From the retailer’s side, I can’t imagine a retailer would be excited about supporting online purchasing of the heaviest and bulkiest of items. There goes the margin! Poof!

I definitely agree with the nutritional information, but I think the current labeling, which tells you how much protein and salt are in the package, seems to suffice.

I think BOGOs tend to be more prejudiced towards people with a lot of space, rather than people with families. I will take advantage of BOGOs because I can fit them in my refrigerator or cabinets, not because I have a family (unless you count my cats!).

Long and short, I can’t really agree with these recommendations.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

How about a checkout lane for people who insist on digging for coins? Or a super-speed lane for those who don’t want their family doctor to notice what is in their cart? Or checkout staff who can talk and scan at the same time? Over 60 checkout or “I’m in no hurry” lanes offer limited value over smiling faces.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

First, equating “over 60s” with “senior” is WAY behind the demographics and current realities.

Most of the suggestions from the University study have real merit. But a designated slow checkout lane is a no-win proposition. Seniors (increasingly, me) do not like to be reminded of limitations and impending death. Having a slow lane is like having wider lanes for “fat people.” I think it would be better (in addition to limited-item express lanes) to have expedited checkout where both customers AND cashiers know how to work fast. Others could be left without label or be called “Senior-Friendly Checkout” where cashiers and baggers know how to engage and help seniors.

Words matter, as we hear on the news hourly. Many years ago I talked many a restaurant into dropping “Please wait to be seated” and pivoting to “Please let us seat you at the best available table.” One demands compliance and subservience and the other extends honor and privilege. The same thinking needs to go into making shopping a positive experience for seniors.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Amen.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Ok, I have to admit that I qualify for the slow lane. Would I use it? Only if there were no one in it so I could get out of the store faster. I will walk out of a store if the lines are too long and not moving.

If your customers want a positive social experience, and I think most customers do, that can be achieved my hiring friendly employees and allowing them to communicate with the customers.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I can only imagine what the signage for this lane would be. It’s hard to imagine how something like this would be rolled out without completely ticking off those of us who are no longer 25.

David Livingston
Guest
4 months 15 days ago

Since the study came from a university I will dismiss it. Usually those university studies have made their conclusion beforehand. Yes, seniors are bored and like to putz around and talk. That’s why many grocers have put in small coffee shops for the elderly to camp out. In my opinion if stores make a special checkout lane for the elderly, most would ignore it and instead gravitate to their favorite cashier.

Tom Redd
Guest

Lots of good points. Millennials and Generation Zers will use self-checkout more and more. When I have the choice — especially if my favorite person is on-register that day — I will wait in her lane. So grocers also have the task of getting register workers to build friendships with customers so that those customers return to their lanes. With loyalty programs in place, this could get register employees to work harder at making friends with customers. Friendships are the best way to make shoppers come back.

In a few years when I run a register at THD or a Kroger store, many people will want to be in my lane. I’ll care about them and give them advice they will never use, but will enjoy. Come on, get that stuff up here! Show me your money!

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

It’s that “research thing” again. You have to know how people are hearing the question that you thought you asked.

My father-in-law is a widower of 84. One of his primary activities of the day is to shop. It gets him out of the house. He never buys more than he will use that day. And often goes to multiple stores for items that are readily available “just to get more exercise.”

I don’t think these seniors are saying they want a “slow lane” for them to stand in even longer. What they are saying is that they use shopping as one of their key social interactions and they want a lane where they can walk right up to a cashier and have them chat as long as they like without anyone behind them to push them along. You would need one lane per person to satisfy what I believe these folks are actually seeking.

William Hogben
BrainTrust

Slow checkout lanes are a backwards solution to the wrong problem. You don’t need to get the elderly out of the regular line, you need to get the hurried shoppers out of it instead. If you give people faster checkout alternatives they’ll self select for them — the busy guy who’s hurrying grandma along will happily check himself out on his phone or in an express line, solving the problem rather than exacerbating it and setting a weird precedent. Now grandma can take her time because everyone who’s in a rush isn’t going through the regular lanes and she can pick the lane with the cashier she likes, too.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Guest
Patricia Vekich Waldron
4 months 15 days ago

One of the good things about living in SoCal is that there are lots of comments posted by the time I get online. This thread is particularly interesting. Why do grocers cater to small baskets, not large ones (where presumably the sales and margin are higher)? Is it time to consider checkout based on shoppers’ social needs?

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Wait a minute! I am over 60…bottom line is that there are all kinds of shopper needs and we don’t have to associate them with age. While we can’t accommodate what every shopper would like to have to make their shopping experience easier and more enjoyable, we can focus on those that will yield the best returns.

If your top 10% want more time or personal assistance, then my 2 cents says to give it to them and they don’t have to be over 60 to want that!

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

I have seen similar studies about the elderly and supermarket checkout. Many of these shoppers just want to get out of the house and interact with cashiers without feeling pressured by shoppers behind them who are in a rush to do whatever they do to justify their busy lives.

It would be good customer service to have such “No Rush” checkout lanes staffed by mature cashiers who actively engage these senior shoppers with friendly conversation. It would increase loyalty to stores. Let the busy folks wrestle with the self-checkout machines and fume when the robotic voice announces, “Help is on the way.”

Scott Magids
BrainTrust
4 months 14 days ago

The underlying theory of adapting in-store customer service to meet the needs of individual customer cohorts is sound. Creating a “slow lane” may not be the best way to accomplish that goal. Rather than assuming that all over-60s need a slow lane, stores would be better served to more deeply analyze their customer data to determine the true needs and desires of this demographic. Older baby boomers may take exception to stores making such assumptions, and a deeper study may offer up more revealing emotional motivators, such as a need to be socially active (solution: in-store cafes and tasting events), a desire to be environmentally conscious (solution: reusable grocery bags), or a desire to try new things (solution: in-store gourmet cooking lessons). Also, this older generation is more tech-savvy than we may be giving them credit for, and they are likely to respond to high-tech innovations such as smart shelves, smartphone apps that offer discounts and other benefits, and the new Amazon Go “grab and go” technology.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

My initial reaction: we already have enough things restricted by (often arbitrary) age limits, and it didn’t change any after reading this, except as to confusion as to how it would work. Would it say “slow lane” or “over 60 lane”? Anyway, while this may not be precisely a solution in search of a problem, I don’t think it’s the way to go.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I’m not sure how many ways to say it, but I believe this is a REALLY bad idea. I suggest changing the experience and satisfying shoppers rather than “slowing” checkouts through age discrimination.

Nir Manor
BrainTrust

While elderly people are definitely an important target group, I think there are much better ways to cater to their needs than a “slow line.” Slow line is operationally problematic for retailers, and I’m not sure it would be well accepted with the target audience it meant to satisfy.

Ideas such as specific promos for older people, based on specific needs of this segment as well as personalized offers based on past purchase behavior, can be both efficient for the retailer and beneficial for the older shopper. Diverting older shoppers to off peak days and hours can work if the retailer would create relevant content such as assistance and training for online shopping for older shoppers. Additional added value activities such as nutrition advice and other relevant content that can be shared one on one or via designated prints materials would also help create loyalty of older shopper to the retailer.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I don’t see how you would “nicely” convince any shopper to go to a “slow” lane. What would you call it? The “socialize-and-take-your-time-and-don’t-hurry-because-we-don’t-need-to-hurry-either” lane? Even if you could get past the notion of calling this a good idea, it’s just begging for poor execution and having the opposite result with shoppers. The other ideas — specials geared to older shoppers, may make sense depending on a given brands demographics. If the answer is varied pricing at different times of day, then this is a technology problem to solve. And it sounds more like something solved by personalization rather than time of day discounts. What happens when other shoppers hear about the time of day discount and alter their shopping habits? Do those older shoppers then move to another time of day?

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Differentiation through target market segmentation is generally a good thing, but labeling “seniors” as slow, is a bit much. Why not have assisted personnel available to help seniors? This would be superior to segmenting them in the grocery experience. Overall this is a bad experience. Would we then have a “fast” lane for younger shoppers?

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

Many good points expressed on the issue of age and consideration. Would ask the researchers to refrain from making negative recommendations of common practices that can be construed as a disadvantage to a select group. For instance, reducing BOGOs because they help families and are not targeted at the elderly. Just because a promotion isn’t an advantage to every demographics doesn’t mean it is a bad promotion vehicle.

Lorie Demski
Guest
Why not? But why does the lane have to call out seniors? The airlines offer boarding for “anyone that needs a little extra time.” This includes seniors, people with a physical or mental challenge, and families with young children. I don’t fall in the “senior” classification yet, nor do I have a physical or mental challenge that might cause me to need a bit of extra time paying for my purchase or putting my change away — just getting sorted; however, I have felt the push of the person behind me in line while I’m trying to put my wallet away and dig for my keys and sunglasses. I can deal with it okay, but what about those that can’t? Does good customer service always mean the fastest service? I think good customer service is whatever makes the customer feel valued. I’ve worked in grocery chains all over the US and Canada and every chain has told me that they have customers that line up and are willing to wait for a particular cashier. That cashier is giving the shopper what they consider to be good service — it’s not particularly fast and the shopper has to wait longer to… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Boy, there’s a slippery slope here!"
"In some ways, the slow lane recommendation borders on discrimination...."
"Ok, I have to admit that I qualify for the slow lane. Would I use it? Only if there were no one in it so I could get out of the store faster."

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