A Dutch supermarket chain says it will introduce 200 “chat registers” in its stores for customers who aren’t in a hurry and want to have a chat during checkout.
The initiative, announced by the popular supermarket chain Jumbo on Monday, is meant to combat loneliness—especially in the country’s elderly population. According to Statistics Netherlands, a government organization, 26 percent of Dutch people older than 15 feel at least moderately lonely. That proportion rises to 33 percent among those over 75.
Jumbo piloted the first so-called chat register (“kletskassa” in Dutch) in 2019 and received positive reactions from customers. The decision comes as part of the government-sponsored “One Against Loneliness” program, which, among other things, established a 24/7 loneliness hotline.
“The Kletskassa is a checkout especially for people who are not in a hurry and feel like having a chat,” a Jumbo representative wrote in an email to Motherboard. “Many people, especially the elderly, sometimes feel lonely. It’s a small gesture, but a very valuable one, especially in a world that is digitizing and getting faster and faster.”
Jumbo also said it will “carefully consider areas where loneliness is a major issue” when choosing where to open the 200 chat registers in branches across the Netherlands and Belgium. Alongside the chat registers, it will also be opening an unspecified number of “cozy chat corners” where customers can have a cup of coffee and a chat, and will donate ingredients to Oma's Soep—an initiative that brings the elderly together with university students to make soup.
Larger supermarkets in the Netherlands, including Jumbo, have become increasingly digitized over the last decade, with chains implementing everything from self-checkout counters to facial recognition surveillance cameras.
This isn’t the first time the Netherlands and Belgium have turned to unique solutions to fight loneliness. A nursing home in the Netherlands, for example, offered students rent-free housing in exchange for spending 30-hours a week as “good neighbors” to elderly residents. Meanwhile, during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the Netherlands advised citizens to arrange a “sex buddy” and Belgium allowed each citizen a so-called “knuffelcontact” (cuddle buddy).