By Deborah Wroe
ICYMI, which means in case you missed it, (in case you missed it) an Asda store in Cheetham Hill, Manchester Fort is introducing quiet time – a disability-friendly hour for people who feel intimidated or stressed by noise and disturbance. A first for supermarkets it seems; it happened on Saturday 7 May and it was the store manager, Simon Lea, who came up with the idea after witnessing an autistic child struggling in the shop. He is quoted in the Guardian as saying “I’ve been speaking with colleagues and customers about how we can help shoppers with autism or disabilities. I suffered for many years with anxiety and I used to absolutely hate going into busy stores. If we can make a few small changes to give these customers a better shopping experience and make them comfortable then I know the store will be a better place to shop for everyone.”
The story has been covered widely, and applauded by parents of autistic children, though not exclusively by parents of autistic children. It’s been welcomed by many others too – including me.
I’m a rubbish shopper, by rubbish I mean I’m not a fan. I had festive supermarket rage many moons ago in a local Tesco car park. The rage built up in the busy store but spilled out in the car park when a bloke had a go at me which tipped me over the edge. A peppered version of a Christmas greeting was screeched (by me) across a busy park before I sped off with my head hanging in shame. I now avoid supermarkets anywhere near Christmas, so that’s from October onwards in the UK.
I recall watching a news piece last Christmas time about music in shopping centres and how different types of music affect shoppers, and therefore shopping behaviour. I was clapping at the telly. The research from Hammerson who manage shopping centres in the UK looked at different styles and volumes of music and the effect on shopping behaviour. To be honest I haven’t seen much on the subject since but at the end of the day shopping centres will only implement such changes if there is a proven effect on the bottom line. Which music will make shoppers spend more is what they want/need to know.
Most of us love music, but at different volumes for different reasons. In the car alone on a warm day? I blast out The Beach Boys as much as the next fan of quality sunny day pop. A neighbour cranking up doof doof music with a speaker faced at my wall. Err no. And in a shop? Also a big no from me.
Simon Lea at Cheetham Hill Asda might be on to something with his quiet hour. Inadvertently the story has provided Asda and other retailers with some useful data on what customers want. You can never do enough research on customers. There might be a huge swathe of the population who’d rather visit a shopping centre or supermarket when bingy bongy noises and music is switched off. Do you even ask your customers about they want from your product or service? Without research you could be driving down a blind alley or playing pop to an audience that will take greater pleasure (and spend more) with an earful of Puccini.