The first sensory-friendly shopping at the Sobeys grocery store in Estevan went over well with customers.
The event was held for two hours in the evening of Nov. 7, and was geared towards customers with autism and their families. Florence Chapman, who is a spokesperson for Sobeys, said a number of stores in Saskatchewan activated sensory-friendly shopping.
“They will reduce lighting by about 50 per cent,” said Chapman. “They would turn off or turn down all of the loud noises that come from cash registers, lottery machines, certainly from our various departments, things like deli slicers and bread slicers that may create louder noises.”
Staff members would refrain from collecting shopping carts during the shop, because those can be very noisy, and they look for ways to reduce noise by turning down in-store music, making sure they don’t have the public address systems on, and considering other options to create a calm shopping environment.
“Sometimes when we have individuals come to the store (during the sensory shop), they’ll see those lights down low, and will ask what’s happening at the store, and we make sure to have some information at the front end with our store teams to explain to customers here’s what happening.”
Sobey’s wants to create an inclusive environment to welcome all customers and people in the community, she said.
Sensory-friendly shopping started with one store in Summerside, P.E.I., through working with an autism partnership. The community engagement was so strong and positive through that shopping experience that soon their Nova Scotia stores came on board. It has rolled out further since then so that all off their Sobeys Atlantic and Ontario stores initiated sensory-friendly shopping times, and it has now spread across the country to Sobeys, Safeway and IGA stores.
“I think the most wonderful aspect is this is grassroots,” she said. “It started in one store, it is very much at the heart of the store community and the individual store owners and operators. That’s really what has been the beauty of this and how it’s unfolded, is their commitment and interest to provide that opportunity to welcome customers who may have sensory sensitivities.”
It’s not just for those on the autism spectrum. It’s also for those who might a condition in which they prefer to shop in a calm environment.
Sensory-friendly shopping hours also differ across stores and regions in Canada, and are left up to store teams to decide what’s best for communities. In the case of the Estevan store, it occurred on a Thursday evening, and other stores in the province tried it for the first time that night as well.
It has happened before in Saskatchewan, but this was a bigger activation of the concept.
Sensory-friendly shopping also serves as an opportunity for people to learn more about the hurdles some people face.
“They do their shop, and we’ve had amazing feedback from people saying this is different, and I like it, and we start to realize we do often have noisy environments in our daily shops and our lives, and this is a very welcoming reaction from individuals in our communities,” said Chapman.