Shoppers have been rushing in to check out the socially-uplifting slow lane at a north Edmonton supermarket.
"Now that it's gone viral on social media, people have been coming in and saying I'm going to have to try it," said Jerry MacLachlan, owner/operator of Belmont Sobeys.
Created to encourage casual conversation while buying groceries, the slow lane has been a huge hit--more than 3.7 million views and 39,000 likes on the store's Facebook page--since opening in mid-January.
After hearing about a slow lane checkout at a supermarket in Holland, MacLachlan ran it past Jason Rutledge, one of his more popular cashiers. “He was totally on board with it,” said the store’s boss, adding, “Jason is the king of guest experience.”
On a recent weekday, two customers greeted MacLachlan, adding, "We'll have to get Jason's autograph."
The popular cashier was off-shift that day, but the comment reflected the buzz the slow lane has created, traditionally open in Lane 8 – at the opposite end from the Express Lane. (The slow lane is identified by a folded piece of cardboard stating, “This checkout is a SLOOOOWER lane” placed in front of the checkout area.)
While Rutledge is the sociable shopping trailblazer, the lane change is well-received among all the 25-member team, said MacLachlan. "Anyone of our cashiers can do this. They are all for it."
Cashier Carol Cardinal agrees, saying slow lane chats vary depending on the customer.
"Some people talk about their family. Some talk about loneliness," said Cardinal.
A Belmont Sobeys Facebook post reads, “The added personal touch is helping many people, especially the elderly, deal with loneliness."
MacLachlan says the slow lane is a manifestation of the store's pledge to be an integral part of the neighbourhood, something he says he learned when starting at the then-IGA store in the 1990s. "It taught me the gesture of giving back and staying connected to the community. A grocery store can and in my mind should be a community hub," he wrote on the store's Facebook page.
That dedication to community was also on evidence during the pandemic when Belmont Sobeys introduced early morning shopping for seniors and vulnerable people to buy groceries in a less-crowded space. Weekly sensory sensitivity shopping has also been part of the schedule at the store.
"We're filling their social bucket. We're their community hub," he said, adding the slow lane initiative is attracting people of all ages; seniors, families--everyone.
While people line up to get into the slow lane, the grocery store boss said shoppers in a hurry will always be taken care of too.
“If someone is doing some foot-tapping,” he said they will be encouraged to go to another lane.
MacLachlan says the slow lane concept is being evaluated to determine how long it will continue and if it could be expanded. He says any permanent changes--including sign changes--would require approval from Sobeys head office.
"We're going to listen to needs of the shopper. They are our compass," he said.
Going by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the slow lane on social media, the idea may be a keeper.
"Love this!!! Putting humanity back into customer service!!" Heather Elizabeth posted on the store's Facebook page.
Lisa Garner wrote, "This is fantastic! It’s about time that we take a step back, slow things down a wee bit, remember to be kind to each other, chat a bit."
Lianna Stone likewise posted, "This is beautiful, you have no idea how a simple conversation could mean the world to someone."