Countdown will roll out its weekly 'Quiet Hours' in stores nationwide after receiving very positive feedback from customers.
The supermarket chain has been holding low-sensory shopping sessions in a small number of stores over the last year. During Quiet Hour, bright lights are dimmed, the radio is turned off, checkout volumes are lowered, staff avoid collecting trolleys and stocking shelves and no PA announcements are made (except in emergencies).
It's intended to create a calming environment for people prone to overstimulation, such as those on the autism spectrum, who often find loud noises and bright lights stressful and distracting.
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The initiative was suggested by a staff member whose child is autistic. Countdown says Quiet Hour has been met with "incredibly positive feedback", and they will now be held in every store in the country.
From October 23, every Wednesday will see supermarkets nationwide dim the lights and turn down the volume from 2:30pm to 3:30pm. Quiet Hour was developed with the help of Autism New Zealand, which provided advice on how to support customers with sensory needs.
Autism New Zealand CEO Dane Dougan says the organisation is "thrilled" by Quiet Hours going nationwide, which he hopes will help people understand how some day-to-day tasks can be incredibly difficult for those with autism.
"[It] highlights how some small changes can create a more inclusive environment that will impact people significantly," he says. "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."
"We want our supermarkets to be welcoming and inclusive for all New Zealanders and their families," Countdown general manager corporate affairs for safety and sustainability Kiri Hannifin says. "We know grocery shopping can be an anxiety-inducing experience for some customers and we wanted to help with that. By making a few small changes and creating a Quiet Hour, we hope we can make a big difference."
She says it's not just autistic customers who will benefit - older Kiwis and anyone else who wants a more peaceful shopping experience will also enjoy Quiet Hour.