Easy on the eye – and ears: Other big retailers may join Countdown’s weekly “quiet hours”

  • News
  • October 25, 2019
  • Rachel Helyer Donaldson
Easy on the eye – and ears: Other big retailers may join Countdown’s weekly “quiet hours”

Countdown’s nationwide roll-out of low-sensory “quiet hours” could spark a change across retail, as store owners become more aware of the needs of customers with autism and anxiety issues. 

At least two other big retailers are thought to be considering a similar scheme, which sees shops switch off their lights and turn down the music to create a less chaotic shopping experience.

The Warehouse told The Register that it is looking into the initiative while Bunnings is also reportedly considering a similar move.

“We are always looking at options around making our The Warehouse stores as accessible and customer friendly as possible. We consider many options and this is one that we’ll also look at,” a spokesperson for The Warehouse said.

Countdown launched its weekly “quiet hour” on Wednesday after a year-long trial. 

At 2.30pm in all its 180 stores – except for four – the bright LED lights were dimmed, in-store radio was turned off, the check-out ‘bleeps’ were lowered while trolley collection and shelf-stocking was kept to a minimum. PA announcements were banned except in emergencies and even some staff were sent off the floor, keeping distractions to a minimum.

Countdown Silverdale and Countdown Northwest will hold their Quiet Hour from 9am to 10am. At this stage Countdown’s two metro city stores, in Auckland and Wellington, will not hold a Quiet Hour. 

Countdown Marton staff member, Theo Hogg, who has an autistic child, came up with the idea. It was developed with the input of Autism New Zealand, which provided advice to the retailer about how best to support customers. 

Autism New Zealand estimates that around 80,000 (or 1 in 60) Kiwis have Autism. While the traits associated with autism span a wide spectrum, they lead to a different way of seeing the world and interacting with others. 

This can make shopping in a supermarket a highly stressful situation, both for the person with autism, as well as for the parents of children with autism. The bright lights and loud sounds of a supermarket can’t be easily filtered out by someone with autism, and can become overwhelmingly stressful. 

Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan says the invisible nature of autism can mean it’s hard to create understanding and awareness of the difficulties people with autism face carrying out day-to-day tasks.
“We’re thrilled that Countdown will be offering Quiet Hour in its stores and it highlights how some small changes can create a more inclusive environment that will impact people significantly.”

It seems retailers are getting more attune to the needs of people with autism. This year has seen rival Australian supermarket giants Cole and Woolworths (Countdown’s owner) roll out weekly low-sensory shopping hours, with the programme in more than 500 supermarkets. 

In Christchurch the Palms shopping centre has hosted a “sensory Santa” event since 2015. Children with special needs can meet Santa in a calmer setting, without the usual chaos and queues. 

Countdown’s general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability Kiri Hannifin says they wanted to be “welcoming and inclusive” for all Kiwis. 

“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.”

But the idea that Countdown would choose 2.30pm to 3.30pm – the frenetic school pick-up ‘witching hour’ where frazzled families converge to feed hangry kids or pick up dinner on the way home – comes as a surprise to some. 

Radio New Zealand reported that some parents have expressed concerns online that that time slot would not work for them as there could be a rush of parents with children. However, Countdown said there was no shortage of checkout staff and all can be catered for.

Hannafin says feedback has been “very positive” so far, and it has come from a range of customers. 
“Our older customers seem to really enjoy Quiet Hours too, as well as many other Kiwis who actually just find shopping a bit stressful and can now visit at a more peaceful time.”

Bunnings did not respond to The Register’s request for comment before deadline. 

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.


Gem Retail Hotlist: Benjamin Black and regional retail

  • News
  • December 12, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
Gem Retail Hotlist: Benjamin Black and regional retail

Our 'Best provincial retailer: South Island' award was hotly contested in the Gem Retail Hotlist, but in the end, it was Nelson jeweller Benjamin Black that won. Find out more about this boutique craft jeweller.

Read more

The retail diary: December / January

  • News
  • December 11, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
The retail diary: December / January

The Register and NZ Retail team has rounded up retail-relevant events and important dates for December and January.

Read more

Kiwis predicted to spend more on Christmas than Australians

  • News
  • December 11, 2019
  • Makayla Wallace-Tidd
Kiwis predicted to spend more on Christmas than Australians

New research has found that Kiwis will be spending up large on Christmas in 2019 while Australians will be taking a more conservative approach to the Christmas budget. However, Kiwis are still focused on trying to lower their Christmas spending, and retailers have been warned to keep pricing strategies transparent.

Read more

Social scoreboard

Zavy and The Register have worked together to create a scoreboard that compares how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media over the past 30 days, updated in real time.

Concept to closet
Business coverage of New Zealand Fashion Week.
Regional rollercoaster
What does retail look like in 2019 for ...
Town centres
A positive retail environment over the past 12 ...
Amazon Arrival
Keeping up with all things Amazon as it ...
The Retail Yearbook 2017
As we battle our way through the busiest ...
The future is bright
We spoke with four retailers in their twenties ...
Hospitality enhancing retail
Some think food and integrated hospitality offerings will ...
Spotlight on signage
At first glance, the humble in-store sign might ...
Red Awards 2016
The Red Awards for retail interior design celebrate ...
Auckland Unitary Plan
Auckland is changing. The Unitary Plan will decide ...
How to open a store
Sarah Dunn considers what it would take to ...
All things to all people
Kiwi retailers share their omnichannel strategies.
Rising stars
Retail's top young achievers.
Delivering on your promises
The sale isn't over until your item is ...
Retail in heartland New Zealand
Retailers keep the regions pumping, but how strong ...
Women in retail help one another. We spoke ...
The changing face of retail
Shifting demographics are creating big changes in New ...
The retail yearbook
With the help of experts in the retail ...
Retail rogues
We put the spotlight on staff training. Jai ...
Here come the giants
Topshop has arrived in Auckland’s CBD, David Jones ...
From retail to e-tail
Ecommerce has become part of the way mainstream ...
Loyalty in the digital age
How are retailers maintaining loyalty? Sarah Dunn, Elly ...
Window shopping: A spotlight on social media
Sarah Dunn and Elly Strang look at how ...
The Innovators | In partnership with Spark Business
Technology is rapidly changing the retail industry as ...
Sponsored content

Christmas music: to carol or not to carol

It’s that time of year again when retailers across the country ask themselves whether they should start playing Christmas music.


Gem Retail Hotlist: Allbirds' Tim Brown is our Retail Visionary

  • News
  • December 11, 2019
  • Catherine Murray
Gem Retail Hotlist: Allbirds' Tim Brown is our Retail Visionary

In the Gem Retail Hotlist, 'Retail Visionary' is one of our most special awards. This year we awarded it to Tim Brown of Allbirds. Here's the scoop on this innovative sneaker brand.

Read more

From concept to closet: New Zealand’s apparel industry in 2019

Held at the end of August, New Zealand Fashion Week is an annual focal point for local designers and those interested in their products. But ...

Next page
Results for
About us.

The Register provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

The Register

Content marketing/advertising? Email or call 022 639 3004

View Media Kit