In Praise of Slow Retail
Conventional wisdom in food retailing is that once a customer has filled their basket, your job is to take their payment and get them out of there as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Indeed, there are low engagement food shoppers who want the whole experience from start to finish to be over as quickly as possible - they don’t like grocery shopping and have other things to do.
Food retail has evolved to be fast. The supermarket was the first innovation. Express checkout lanes followed. Belted checkouts, self-service stations, scan as you shop and just walk out technology take our money have us happily back in our cars before we know it.
But for every trend there is a counter trend.
I was recently invited to spend a day with Carrefour touring some of their formats near Paris. A successful initiative in their hypermarkets has been the addition of deliberately slow checkout lines. Customers are encouraged to take their time and have a chat with the checkout operators and other customers. It’s called the “blabla” line. Not only does it humanise the shopping experience for customers who choose it, but it brings happiness to the cashiers as well – too often it’s a thankless job where no one speaks to you.
The idea apparently originated with Jumbo in the Netherlands and has also been adopted by other French supermarket giants Auchan and Systeme U. Carrefour trialled it in 2019 and now it has one in each one of its hypermarkets.
Closer to home here in Sydney, there’s Lamonica IGA in Haberfield. All IGA’s are different and when you walk into this one you’re transported to Italy. It’s renowned for its deli counter- but at weekends you wouldn’t want to be pressed for time. It’s truly an amazingly curated offer- a fantastic selection of European deli meats and cheeses. Everything is sliced to order, just how you like it, and the people behind the counter take their time to give advice and make sure you get what you need. Once you take a ticket it could be a twenty-minute wait.
But the theatre is great- lots of people, lots of tasting and everyone is speaking Italian. You can use your waiting time to complete the rest of your shop- they also have a huge selection of Italian goods on the shelves- or you could nip out to the equally tempting Italian bakery next door. Or you can simply hang out at the deli counter, swap notes with other customers and soak up the atmosphere.
Express shopping isn’t for everyone all the time. Slow shopping has its place, particularly for older or socially isolated customers. Shouldn’t we be giving customers that choice?
In our obsession with speed, we forget that shopping is a social activity too.