Quiet Hour shopping expands
In 2017, Coles supermarkets in Australia introduced a weekly “quiet hour” to make shopping less stressful for customers on the autism spectrum or those experiencing anxiety. Now a major supermarket chain in New Zealand has followed suit. Countdown said the move was intended to provide customers a time to shop that was easy on the eyes and ears by reducing noise, lighting and other in-store distractions such as shelf-stocking, checkout beeps, and PA announcements.
"We know grocery shopping can be an anxiety-inducing experience for some customers and we wanted to help with that,” Countdown's general manager Kiri Hannifin told Stuff.co.nz. “By making a few small changes and creating a quiet hour, we hope we can make a big difference.” And, as Hannifin told The Guardian, it’s not just those on the autistic spectrum who are benefitting from the low-sensory vibe: “Our older customers seem to really enjoy quiet hours too, as well as many other Kiwis who actually just find shopping a bit stressful and can now visit at a more peaceful time.”
A small quiet hour trial was conducted earlier in the year after a staff member with an autistic child suggested it would be a good idea. The quiet hour was developed alongside Autism New Zealand, which provided advice to Countdown management on how to best support customers for whom shopping can be an anxious experience.
Since its inception, the reaction to the initiative has been overwhelming. "We've had amazing feedback from the autistic community, who have benefited from quiet hour over the last year and the increased understanding of autism and sensory needs that it is having as well,” Autism New Zealand’s chief executive Dane Dougan told Otago Daily Times. "We're thrilled that Countdown will be offering quiet hour in its stores and it highlights how some small changes can create a more inclusive environment that will impact people significantly."
Meanwhile, UK chain Morrisons introduced a “quieter hour” in 2018. Canvassing customer feedback, Morrisons discovered that one in five had a friend or family member with autism. “I was involved in the initial trial as my son is autistic and we found these changes made a real difference,” said customer Angela Gray. “The trial showed there is a need for a quieter shopping experience for some customers.”
As in New Zealand, the UK scheme has received support from autism advocates. “Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. This means they see, hear and feel the world differently to other people, often in a more intense way,” said Daniel Cadey from the National Autistic Society. “Quieter hour is a step in the right direction for autistic people who find supermarket shopping a real struggle.”