Finnish Grocer Testing Slow Checkout Lanes

Discussion
Nov 08, 2011

K-citymarket, a supermarket in the city of Espoo, Finland, is experimenting with a slow-track checkout lane. The checkout is aimed for the elderly, mentally disabled, or any other customer who wants their shopping visit to be more relaxed.

The slow-track checkout process is adapted to the customer’s pace. For instance, it reserves time for some conversation. Customers can also their wait for their turn sitting in an armchair.

The supermarket, operated by the Kesko Group, is collaborating on the test with Finland’s Aalto University. Researchers at the university formed the idea of an unhurried checkout operation from a user survey which examined the everyday needs of mentally disabled youths living in Espoo.

“The survey results showed that, on one hand, a shopping visit was the highlight of their week, while on the other hand, it was a very pressurized situation in a cognitive and physical sense,” said industrial designer Sara Ikävalko of Aalto University, in a statement. “For many, the hectic nature of everyday social activities can be crucial for coping independently in the community.”

The grocer found that the project dovetailed with some existing initiatives to ease shopping. For example, its Omena Shopping Centre Hostess service features a person to assist and guide elderly people from one store to another.

“It was natural for us to join the project,” added Toni Pokela, the manager of the store participating in the slow-checkout test, in a statement. “This experiment is a good continuation of the service. Moreover, it seems that many other customer groups would also appreciate a more relaxed checkout operation. Small children, for example, like to sit in the armchairs while their parents pay at the checkout.”

The retailer will observe and monitor the launch of the slow-track checkout, including the staff and customer responses, before considering further expansion. Kesko operates 73 K-citymarkets in Finland.

Discussion Questions: Do think that U.S. checkouts have become too rushed for some customers? In what ways could supermarkets be looking to accommodate the needs of those who may want a less-hurried checkout experience?

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13 Comments on "Finnish Grocer Testing Slow Checkout Lanes"


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Gene Hoffman
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Gene Hoffman
9 years 6 months ago

America is getting older. As America ages its growing number of senior citizens don’t enjoy being rushed. And since age takes the edge off learning how to easily manipulate daily chores such as self-checkout, older folks rely on traditional checkouts since they want a more relaxed experience and possibly time for a little palaver with a checkout clerk.

That presents a dilemma to retailers: an enlarging population with a shorter life span as customers versus the cost of serving them. Why not create a single “slow checkout lane” and test whether if is affordable beyond its PR value?

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

As the U.S. population ages, this might work, but overall, consumers want to get in and get out of grocery stores. Unless the customers that would use the super-slow lane are buying significant amounts of groceries, this concept is going to be hard to justify financially for the retailer.

Bill Emerson
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Bill Emerson
9 years 6 months ago

The Boomers are aging and, in theory, a slower checkout might make sense. However, these are Boomers we’re talking about. While they may be aging, they won’t admit it and they will be the first to complain about the time it takes to check out.

Great for the Finns. For Americans, not so much, I think.

Doron Levy
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Doron Levy
9 years 6 months ago

I could be wrong but the whole purpose of the checkout is to be the high pressure, high impulse area of the store. Yes, it’s a hurried experience because the customer wants to get out of there as soon as possible. Add a high impact rack filled with shiny products and you have the makings of a very profitable area of the store. Of course I can understand accommodating the needs of every shopper but I just don’t see this taking off in North America.

Tim Henderson
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Tim Henderson
9 years 6 months ago
Checkout is always a pain point for shoppers. When we’re waiting, it’s too slow; when we’re checking out, it’s too fast — to the point where the cashier starts ringing up the next customer before the current customer has even finished putting their change away. I recently had my groceries mixed up with the customer ahead of me because the cashier was whipping customers thru the lane without stop while relying on the hapless bagger to figure it all out. And as one who regularly accompanies my elderly mother shopping, I’m well aware of the distaste senior shoppers have for the way they’re rushed through checkout. While a carbon copy of the K-citymarket slow checkout may not work stateside (waiting to checkout in an armchair strikes me as a little too relaxed), it’s the customer service strategy here that more U.S. merchants need to embrace. Specifically, not everyone wants to be rushed thru checkout, especially our physically-challenged consumers and the growing number of aging consumers. Brands that serve such demographics, and others who want to… Read more »
Doug Stephens
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Doug Stephens
9 years 6 months ago

If this sounds like a crazy idea now, just wait until 2029 when all Baby Boomers will be over 65 and one out of every four people on the street is a senior citizen. To put it mildly, we may need slow-track in more than one checkout lane.

Ed Dennis
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Ed Dennis
9 years 6 months ago

Heck, most of America’s retailers have been testing SLOW checkout lanes for years! What have they learned? They have learned that some customers will leave a buggy full of frozen food and other perishable items and walk out of the store. Every retailer I see is trying to speed up the checkout because they know that you aren’t getting paid to stand in line. I guess if the Finns (all 60 of them) want to spend more time in the store rather than brave the sub zero weather outside I can’t blame them. Maybe they should work on programming their Nokia Phone so they can scan items as the put them in their baskets and download the list to the checkout register?

Caitlin Kelly
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Caitlin Kelly
9 years 6 months ago

I think this is a wise idea. As I said in a recent speech about how to improve customer service, 47 million Americans currently suffer from arthritis — as I do — and by the time they’ve dragged themselves through or around the typically enormous grocery store (laid out, as we know, for maximum profit, not consumer comfort or ease), they’re whipped! They’re tired and in pain and fed up of navigating a huge space where every step, literally, hurts. Having a place for them to sit is a great idea. I would reward that retailer with my business and use every form of social media to say so.

You can dislike the notion of accommodating older, slower, impaired shoppers, but our money is worth as much as everyone else’s. I’ve given much more of my business of late to retailers who understand this.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 6 months ago
I agree with Bill. I don’t believe the go-go American culture is yet ready for this. That does not mean we wouldn’t all appreciate the checkout lane process being more customer focused. A Mariano’s Fresh Market recently opened near our home. To date I have found the store’s approach to the checkout to be refreshing. It’s a very busy store but there are always plenty of lanes open and a couple of express checkouts remotely located near the bakery/deli/produce departments for those who wanted to just grab a little fresh foods and leave. One final note on checkouts: On my last trip to Lowe’s I noted that all the self-service lanes were gone. The sales associate informed me that they were being removed from all their stores. Said they, “Broke down too often and the people preferred to speak with a clerk anyway.” This is the opposite of my local Home Depot where I have had clerks ask me to check with them because so many people used the self-service checkouts they didn’t have enough… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I agree with Dennis (to a point): here in CA, Longs Drugs for years had imperceptibly moving checkouts, giving rise to the quip, “Now I know why it’s called Longs.” Seriously though, I don’t see how this could be very cost-effective, except perhaps in the largest stores where the volume might be sufficient for a dedicated lane.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Interesting views but I think there’s an aspect of the rush, rush, rush help-me-get-outta-here-fast preferences expressed that has been overlooked, which is that having a slow lane for those who prefer it (and CHOOSE for themselves to use it) will actually make things easier and faster for the aforementioned rushees.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Most publicly held chain supermarkets already slow down their checkouts by having limited labor. Slowing them down more for a few customers would mean a separate checkout and more labor. Plus, I would think many people would be embarrassed by being in the “slow” lane. Got a feeling this is the last time we discuss the slow lane in Finland.

Verlin Youd
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Winning retailers always consider the specific needs of their consumers. As more retailers adopt a “localized” approach in both merchandise and experience they will need to consider such creative and thoughtful options. Even if the approach won’t play everywhere, or even if it will only play in one location, the retailer that can address it in a compelling fashion will have a competitive advantage.

Kudos to K-citymarket for being willing to experiment to meet the needs of their local customers.

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