Grocery stores hold quiet hours for customers with autism

For some people with autism spectrum disorder, shopping at a grocery store can be an overwhelming experience of bright lights, loud music, and unfamiliar sounds. In order to create a sensory-friendly shopping environment, these grocery stores have organized weekly quiet hours during which customers with autism and their families can shop in comfort and without fear of judgment. Such initiatives that foster inclusivity should resonate with young consumers who are cultivating a culture in which all people are valued and welcome.


Autism Spectrum Australia conducted a study asking people with autism and their families about their shopping habits and found that the most common sensory triggers for autistic shoppers are bright lights, loud music, cash register noises, and long lines. With this in mind, the Australian supermarket Coles organized a trial program it called Quiet Hour in two of its Victoria stores. The low-sensory shopping experience is currently held every Tuesday morning at 10:30am for an hour, during which volume for any noise-emitting technology is lowered, lights are dimmed, and disruptive supermarket activities like shopping cart collection are put on pause. The trial will continue until the end of October.


Morrisons, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, has implemented a weekly quiet hour wherein its customers with autism and their families can peruse the store knowing that they’re in a safe space. Every Saturday morning between 9am and 10am staff members dim the store lights, turn off the music, and avoid creating other triggering sounds, such as the clang of shopping carts and baskets, so that autistic customers can shop in a low-sensory environment. The initiative was launched in support of the UK’s National Autistic Society with the hope that it would create an inclusive experience for consumers with sensory differences. 


New Zealand supermarket Countdown is the first in the country to hold a quiet hour for customers who have autism in its Marton location. Grocery shopping for someone with autism or for the parent of a child with autism can be a stressful, often near impossible, experience; Countdown is helping to alleviate some of this anxiety. Every Wednesday between 3pm and 4pm the store transforms into a low-sensory space, void of the lights and sounds that trigger sensory overload. Given the initiative’s success and positive customer feedback, Countdown plans to roll out quiet hours across all of its store locations.