Coles has been praised for a successful trial of a new “Quiet Hour” initiative in some of its Melbourne stores this week, with a customer penning an emotional post on Facebook thanking the retailer for the “positive experience”.
Coles’ Quiet Hour initiative is aimed at customers with autism or with autistic children and has been developed in conjunction with Autism Spectrum Australia. For an hour each Tuesday, Coles’ Balwyn East and Ringwood stores dim the lights, lower the in-store music to its lowest volume, avoid PA announcements and remove all roll cages from the shop floor.
Similar programs have been trialed overseas at retailers like the UK’s Tesco chain, and in a statement, Coles’ accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean said the retailer was looking to “make a difference to our customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment”.
In a Facebook post, Melbourne mum Emily Dive said the usual shop for her and her son can be a “sensory land-mine”, but with the Quiet Hour trial, the two spent 40 minutes calmly shopping.
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“Crawling under shelves, running out of the store, screaming, running, and yelling are our “norm” when we visits the supermarket. Behaviours that are his way of communicating ‘I can’t cope’. Today, these were obsolete,” Dive wrote.
“We spent 40 mins in the store, casually walking up and down each aisle selecting the items that we needed. The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears. Today was a milestone for us. We filled a trolley!!!”
“Please know that your acknowledgment of those who require the simplest of changes to environments to assist in making them more comfortable, is respected and appreciated. Thank you!”
Coles has continued to receive positive responses to the trials, with Sheean saying the retailer was “really pleased” with the outcomes of the first trials, which will continue until October.
“Our stores teams at Ringwood and Balwyn East are enthusiastic about the trial and customers have provided wonderful feedback to them, and have also taken to social media to let us know what they think,” Sheean said in a statement.
Customer behavioural economics expert Bri Williams tells SmartCompany Coles’ Quiet Hour trial is a fantastic example of how businesses can understand and react to the needs of certain groups of customers.
“I think this is an area that is absolutely overlooked by many businesses and should be looked at as a way of differentiating themselves from other retail experiences,” she says.
“It’s a fantastic way to appeal to disenfranchised customers whose needs are not being met, and shaping the environment to help them is a positive step.”
Williams believes Coles’ initiative should serve as a reminder for businesses about the effect of the physical environments on customer experience, and urges businesses to take steps to understand their customer’s needs in this area.
“Do some market research into understanding if particular groups aren’t coming into your store for whatever reason. Then, start small and try something with low exposure, just in one store not all of them,” she says.
Despite the importance of inclusivity for all customers, Williams does warn businesses run the risk of groups of customers claiming discrimination, or regular customers feeling displaced and alienated by any changes to your business operations.
“You’ve got to do it inclusively and thoughtfully, and be strategic with how you communicate the change to customers,” she says.
“There needs to be a clear message around why you’re making the change so there’s not too much of a shock for customers.”
“But doing something for the community has benefits beyond the community you’re seeking to support. I believe the payoffs and benefits are greater than the risks.”