Leah Panapa: Countdown's quiet hour could be good for all of us

Opinion 11/10/2019

By Leah Panapa, Magic Talk Nights host.

As someone who visits the supermarket pretty much on a daily basis, I must confess I haven’t taken much notice of how loud, or bright, it is. Nor do I notice if the music they play is distracting (although I do find myself singing along if it is a good tune).

So when the press release of Countdown offering low-sensory quiet hours in it's stores nationwide came into my email box I must admit I was a little confused.

Don’t people just go there to shop and not see it as a place to chill out, and as Countdown is my supermarket of choice, it intrigued me more. 

There have been many changes in Countdown.

They were hot on the getting rid of the single use plastic bags, to be fair the others also did the same, then they introduced allowing customers to bring their containers in for meats and deli items. So now, ‘quiet hours’.

The supermarket chain says quiet hours are designed to give customers a time to shop that was easy on the eyes and ears by reducing noise, lighting and other distractions in-store.

Lighting throughout the store will be reduced, the in-store radio turned off, checkout volumes will be lowered, trolley collection and shelf-stocking kept to a bare minimum, and there will be no PA announcements except in emergencies.

Quiet hours are every Wednesday between the hours of 2.30-3.30pm (with the exception of two stores, Countdown Silverdale and Northwest which will hold theirs between 9-10am)

The quiet hours are being targeted at families with children who are sensitive to their surroundings, particularly an issue for those on the autism spectrum.

Quiet hours are for families with children sensitive to their surroundings, particularly autism.

Again, I thought how many people, not just children, are on the autism spectrum that requires a supermarket chain to dim the lights and shut off the music?

Well apparently there are quite a few; In 2018 the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention determined that approximately one in 59 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with boys four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. 

But it isn't just those with ASD, those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury can also find it overwhelming to enter a place that is bright and bustling.

This idea hasn’t just surfaced overnight, a small number of Countdown supermarkets began offering quiet hours last year after an initial trial in Marton, Palmerston North.

They quickly realised that older customers seem to really enjoy it too, as well as many other Kiwis who actually just find shopping a bit stressful and can now visit at a more peaceful time.

So, initially I thought it was a bit quirky.

Possibly even virtue signalling on behalf of Countdown who wanted to show us that they were all inclusive but in retrospect there are many distractions and stimulus around us in our busy day to day lives.

So one hour a week where things are slowed down a little bit may not be that bad....for ALL of us.

Leah Panapa is host of Magic Talk Nights every Monday to Friday 7-11pm.