Supermarkets roll out 'chat-friendly' tills to battle COVID loneliness

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By Euronews  with AFP
Consumers shop at Carrefour supermarket in Langueux, western France, on January 29, 2022.
Consumers shop at Carrefour supermarket in Langueux, western France, on January 29, 2022.   -  Copyright  Credit: AFP

"Your hair looks good."

"I thought you were telling me my hair looked bad."

"Oh no, not at all."

"You look lovely."

"That's nice, thank you."

It's not the sort of conversation that takes place between shoppers and cashiers at busy supermarket checkouts, but in France, such exchanges are now being actively encouraged.

In stores all over the country, chat-friendly tills known as "blabla caisses" are being created, to allow customers to take a little more time to talk to staff. The French word "blabla" usually means "waffle", "prattle", or to describe someone "rabbiting on".

The idea behind the move is to recreate links between people, particularly after two years of the pandemic, that have left supermarkets concerned for the welfare of staff and shoppers alike.

"We know we'll be welcomed, and people behind us know, so we're in less of a hurry. We don't get in the way," said a customer at a Carrefour store in the western city of Angers.

"Some customers want to go quickly to the checkout, others want to take their time, slow down, enjoy the moment and talk to our cashiers. So this allows us to take a little time with the cashier by exchanging a few words," said the store's manager, Pierre-Emmanuel Vasseur.

Cashier Coline Giraudeau said she had noticed that at traditional checkouts, some customers wanted to engage in conversation -- but if a queue had formed then exchanges had to be cut short.

"With this checkout, we take our time, and we can see that the customers like it, and we also find it more pleasant to take our time, to go through the articles calmly. So we can still see a difference, even if we often find the customers we already had, with whom we used to talk at the normal checkout," she said.

Other large supermarket chains in France, such as Hyper U and Auchan, have also signed up to the scheme which was rolled out in full in January. Around 150 now have chat-friendly tills installed.

Not everyone is up for the idea. "Me, I'm no smooth talker," murmured one man as he headed for a traditional till to avoid the "blabla caisse" in front of him.

The new scheme does hit the jackpot with elderly people in particular. Marie-Luc Lefeuvre-Justeau, 82, says she likes to "chatter in the shops" out of politeness and to "have fun".

"But there are always people in a hurry who grumble," she adds. "Here we annoy no one."