‘Quiet Hours’ Are An Important First-Step To Retail Inclusivity

Creating accessible and enjoyable places to shop should be a prime ambition for all retailers. A key consideration is inclusivity, offering the same enjoyable retailing experience to the one in five people in UK with a disability.

Often retail environments can be places that associated with loud noise, bright lights and strong smells; the volume of people can be stressful for some customers.

Tesco has today announced that it will make ‘Quiet Hour’ a permanent feature in its stores. On Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9am-10am, larger supermarkets will have lights dimmed and checkout noise lowered to make shopping easier for some customers.

The retailer has also committed to further developments to reduce the noise of self-service tills and self-scanning devices.

“ I know that for some people the shopping trip can be stressful and not just for people with a disability but for others looking for a calmer place to shop. We want everyone to know that Tesco is a welcome place for everyone to come and shop or work with us.”  said Claire Pickthall, Tesco Group Customer Proposition Director

The UK charity The National Autistic Society has been focussed on an Autism Hour campaign over recent years to encourage more retailers to host similar hours in-store and train staff about autism.

“Autistic people represent a huge part of our society – around 1 in 100 people in the UK. They and their families want to have the opportunity to go to the shops, just like anyone else. But many find the crowds, noise and unpredictability of our high streets completely overwhelming and end up avoiding them altogether. Our research found that 64% of autistic people avoid the shops and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism. This is not good enough.” explains Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns at the National Autistic Society

The high street toy retailer, The Entertainer, has also committed to regular Quiet Hours throughout the year, helping customers to avoid the hustle and bustle usually associated with the shopping experience.

The family-owned business has also been awarded an Autism Friendly Award by The National Autistic Charity for it’s commitment to supporting its autistic customers and their families and for providing additional relevant staff training.

The move to include Quiet Hours into the shopping routine is happening as the UK high street footfall is starting to return, following the easing of restrictions.

For many shoppers affected by the pandemic and the various national lockdowns, the signs of a high street revival are very welcome. However, remains a number of people for whom busy shops, excess sounds and bright lights make for a stressful experience.

The Ridings shopping mall in Wakefield, Yorkshire is working hard to mitigate these challenges and promote customer mental health and wellbeing as part of the visitor experience. It has won a number of awards for customer-facing initiatives including the establishment of a community allotment where customers to enjoy gardening in situ, at the shopping centre. In 2019 the centre launched a ‘Quieter Hour’ across the whole mall twice a week to make the centre calmer and a quieter space. In support of Autism Hour the business has now permanently incorporated a Quiet Hour into every day of trading.

The team at the Ridings has also lessened use of radio communications and altered the centre lighting, encouraging its 80 tenant stores to do the same.

Lee Appleton, Centre Director said ‘ It is important to us to be inclusive for everyone and a quiet hour every day is another important step to ensuring this.’

The National Autistic Society survey suggests that 64% of autistic people avoid the shops. In addition, 28% of them report that they have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated for their autism.

People can feel, see and experience the world in different ways. Creating a calm and quieter environment for any customer who needs it, is a low-cost effort that will make a positive difference to the shopping experience of many. No Rocket Science required.