/ Shopping

Is a ‘quiet hour’ in shops a good idea?

supermarket till

Shopping can be an overwhelming experience for many, so are proposals for a ‘quiet hour’ a welcome idea? Our guest community author Caroline Pritchard gives her experience…

I have autism and also melophobia – a fear of music – which means shopping can be a difficult experience, and one I often try to avoid.

So the news that Morrisons will be introducing a ‘quiet hour’ in stores – where they’ll turn music and radios off, dim the lights, keep other noises down and inform shoppers it’s the quiet hour – came as a great relief to me.

It’s common to think people with autism or Asperger’s don’t ‘feel’ as much – and we can come across as unfeeling – but it’s actually more a case that we feel more, and we’re overwhelmed by those feelings.

So, the experience of shopping, in supermarkets and other shops, can often be a real sensory overload for people with autism – all the music, noises, people and visual busyness.

And that can lead to anxiety – you just want to get around the shop as quickly as possible and leave. That means we’re really very disadvantaged as consumers.

Autism and shopping

If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not going to actually compare items properly and make a good decision.

Instead, you end up buying the product you’ve always bought – or worse still, the one with a big bright ‘special offer’ sign on it.

It puts you under pressure to make quick decisions – and maybe you’ll make the wrong one: you’ll just grab the first one you see and run. That’s a common experience.

A ‘quiet hour’ would essentially give me and others a bit of breathing space when shopping – the time and space to make the right decisions.

And it might mean I can actually enjoy the experience as well – something all shoppers should be entitled to.

Consumer disadvantage

For the time being, without ‘quiet hours’, many autistic consumers, myself included, do a lot of their shopping online. But there are drawbacks.

You don’t get the same special offers, you don’t get the face to face interaction and you don’t get the same personal service.

The thing for me is, I love perfumes, and i’m very fussy about them. I like to break down all the notes in a perfume and compare them.

But buying perfume and other luxury products online isn’t the same as doing it in person. If you order a Jo Malone bubble bath online, for example, it’s just not the same as going into the store, comparing them, getting it wrapped in the paper and in the bag.

You miss out on that experience, but you shouldn’t have to. A quiet hour would make shops, generally, more accessible to autistic shoppers.

Other shoppers

My son is autistic as well and as a parent with autistic children, you always have that worry in the back of your mind that they might have a panic attack or a bit of a ‘meltdown’ in shops.

Autism is a hidden disability, so if your kids have a meltdown in a shop, people don’t know the context and you get looked at as if you can’t ‘control’ your children.

Like all parents, you’re also restricted as to when you can shop. I noticed the Morrison’s plan was from 9.00-10.00AM on Saturdays, it would be better if they were more flexible with this.

Still, a ‘quiet hour’ could be wonderful for all sorts of people. For example, my mother who is hard of hearing. Shopping with any kind of mental disability can be hard as well. And this will surely help.

My main hope is that more shops roll out the idea, as the National Autistic Society is campaigning for.

This is a guest post by Caroline Pritchard. All views expressed are Caroline’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Do you think a quiet hour in shops is a good idea? Do you have autism and find shopping overwhelming? What shops would you like to see introduce a quiet hour?


It would be great to have at least two quiet hours in every shop. I don’t have autistism but can’t bear the jarring noise in clothing shops, supermarkets and in every cafe and restaurant – the noise that’s meant to be music. I’m fairly sure that in many cases this ‘music’ is really for the benefit of its young staff, and not the customers. And I agree, it’s stressful enough if our child is having an outburst of emotion, but even more so in an environment that’s already hostile with its noise levels and judgements.

What’s wrong with a quiet 24 hours?

Ok, slightly flippant. However, I almost stopped going to Sainsbury’s near us at our usual time of 10PM on a Friday – when things are peaceful, due to a change of music policy. At our time, customers are few and far between, the glaring white lights in the freezers and affixed to cosmetic gondolas have been subdued – and until about a year ago it was an altogether not-too-unpleasant experience. Yes the isles were awash with pallet stacks and staff restocking shelves, but we got a good routine going there. Then a change of policy. At 10:15pm – after the night shift had taken over – on came music. Very loud music. With the exception of one or two young members of staff, others I spoke to found it overpowering too. Whether it had been done to stop the warehousemen from catching 40 winks I’ll never know. It lasted for about 4 visits when enough of us had written in to get it revoked. Peace rains once again.

The Sainsbury’s near us has no music thankfully [except at Christmas time in case you’ve forgotten the festive season] but shopping is interrupted by intrusive and irritating announcements at too high a volume. As soon as I hear “Welcome to Sainsbury’s . . .” I cringe. I presume this is broadcast from HQ – there is no local ‘flavour’ in the announcements. They seem to come along about every five minutes and if you are in the store for more than half an hour they come round again. The other intrusion is the occasional ‘colleague announcements’ for more staff on the checkouts but at least they are delivered by Barbara with the multi-coloured hair and a pleasant Norfolk accent.

It’s a CD full of announcements played on repeat

Music annoys many of us but this and any loud noise is a serious problem for anyone with autism. There is absolutely no need for audible pollution in shops etc. I don’t have autism or have any family or friends that do, but have occasionally worked as a charity volunteer with autistic groups. I will never forget a group of young men and women covering their ears when I was making a safety announcement at an event. I had forgotten that the group was autistic.

It is difficult for the public to understand conditions such as autism or Asperger’s unless they have had experience through friends and family. I wish you success, Caroline. Many of us could benefit from peace & quiet and being able to have normal conversation with others, but let’s raise awareness that music can be more than a mild annoyance for some people.

I tend to switch off to the background in supermarkets and get on with shopping, though occasionally I have been heard to mutter “bloody row” when some music gets through. I then ignore it. I can understand people with specific needs having much bigger problems with music and background noise in shops. The quiet hour seems to be something of a token gesture and more of a marketing gimmick than a medical response. People don’t usually creep round shops on tip toe and a crying brat -sorry – upset child – would spoil the ambience. I suppose those with an aversion to bright lights and horrid music could wear tinted glasses and ear protectors, but that does seem extreme and would draw attention to the wearer. I sympathise with Caroline and welcome anything that makes her afflictions and those of her son more bearable. Unfortunately, for her and anyone who has a disability, the real world is a hard place and there is only so much adaptation that can be done, since the majority of us use our public spaces without a second thought about their problems for those less able than ourselves. The government and local authorities do task themselves with making things easier for access, though much more could be done, especially with toilet facilities. Most of us are willing to help when we see someone struggling and that helps to make the world go round.

Hello,I find having no music very calming all that noise can actually hear yourself talk. There was a time
when stores never had any music at all
. So very good

One hour is a start. But I’d like to know when these other hours will be adopted:
No mobile phones
No children
No discussing your life history to the check out operator

I think quiet times would be a very good idea and wish this initiative success . Music in stores particularly drives me to distraction and even more so when the festive songs start straight after Halloween! However a close family relative is on the autistic spectrum and just can’t cope in places with lots of hustle and bustle and the noise that creates so that’s the reason he doesn’t go into supermarkets or shops unless he really has to. It leads to heightened anxiety to the extent he feels physically sick. The quiet hours would have to mean less people around to encourage him to go there but that wouldn’t make financial sense to businesses. Where do you stop drawing the line at what is noise and what is not? Children having melt downs, mobile phones, talking, music?

Since extraneous music in stores is entirely avoidable and serves no public purpose it should not be played ever or anywhere. Making miniscule concessions at an inconvenient time for people who suffer from such noise nuisance is not sufficient and Morrison’s policy was not introduced for the right reasons, i.e. to make life better for people with hearing disabilities or on the autism spectrum, but as a token gesture for people who don’t like music or just want to shop in peace. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction if only a tiny one, so we shouldn’t be churlish perhaps. I hope it catches on.

agreed John.

When I lived near a Tesco branch that was open 24/6, I often called in late in the evening, often at around 10pm, when it was quieter and more civilised than during the day. Knowing that music was often put on at 11pm in the evening provided an incentive to leave by then.

If shops do offer a quiet hour then that’s a foot in the door and an opportunity to push for more.

Not sure an hour is long enough – but it’s a start. I agree with Caroline that it’s a pity the timing can’t be more flexible. Up here in Scotland we are not allowed to purchase alcohol before 10.00am so it seems a bit mean to have the cut-off time for the “Quieter Hour” at 10.00am on a Saturday morning. As for other shops where I would like a quiet hour, where do I begin? The Co-op, B&Q, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Fopp, Card Factory, Boots, for starters!

“And it might mean I can actually enjoy the experience as well – something all shoppers should be entitled to.”
It struck me that I never enjoy parting with money no matter what so I found it hard to agree : )

As to shops and shoppers. Shoppers have choices and shops differentiate themselves in many ways to attract sectors of the market. Overprescriptive measures to aid certain sections of the public need careful consideration.

In this case though I think that a nationwide ban on music [apart from music shops etc] would be a good idea and could be a set time daily preferable 8-10a.m.

How about 8-10a.m. and at all other times. 🙂 I agree that any ban should not apply to music shops.

If it was a minority of shops that played music then these could be avoided but in some areas the choice does not exist.

I don’t think people’s suffering switches on and off. It has never been easier for people who want music wherever they are to have a system and content that is bespoke to their desires, so there is absolutely no justification for shops to impose their choice of music on their customers at any time.

That’s an excellent point, John.

My supermarket was quiet on Monday. People were quietly shopping, staff were quietly moving around and the welcome as one entered the store was quietly enticing as we were quietly sucked in to the emporium with a quiet air of purpose and even quiet (muted) advertising. There were no loud colours or flashy posters. The message was “we’re here to serve you, come in and buy.” It worked. I did. Long may it continue.

I find music (sometimes “music”…) in shops, restaurants etc really difficult to bear. It really drives me up the wall. I have sometimes had to leave places because the noise inside was intolerable to me, caused partly by people having to shout over the music to make themselves heard, sometimes exacerbated by the reverb on all the smooth surfaces. On top of that, incidental noise makes it difficult for me to make out what folks are saying. If I had a choice I would only ever go where there is no music at all ever.

You’re not alone, Sophie. This is what Germaine Greer had to say on Any Questions last week: “I can’t go into a shop because it’s got so much muzak all around me that I can’t hear anything that anybody is saying to me”

Unfortunately, M&S, who stopped playing background music in their stores two years ago, are now trialling background music again in 35 of their stores. The trial is lasting until the start of October. I went into my local M&S yesterday and had forgotten just how stressful the music can be. If you don’t like it, please complain to M&S as they say they will be reviewing customer feedback.

That’s odd. Elsewhere, Marks & Spencer and other shops are helping autistic children by turning off music: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/supermarkets-take-a-dim-view-to-help-autistic-children-mhbks2xzb

I’ve never heard of M&S doing that on the mainland, Wavechange, but other stores certainly do. I think ASDA was the first supermarket to offer quiet hours to help the autistic but not in every branch, and it is great that Morrisons has now rolled out a regular “quieter hour” in all its stores on a Saturday morning. M&S trialling muzak again just seems a backward step.

You might like my local Morrisons store, Dorothy. It always plays music but it’s so quiet that it is sometimes inaudible. I don’t understand why they play it. Your earlier comment reminded me that Asda decided to support the autistic a couple of years ago and it’s easy to find other examples, but not so easy to find out how long their trials lasted.

Guess everyone on Which is over 50 as soon as I walk into a shop or cafe that isn’t playing music, I usually walk out without buying anything. Don’t like being in a dead quiet area, its creepy af!

Its best when shops play a variety of music

Dave Evans says:
26 August 2018

If you feel like that, Larry5, you can always provide your own music or radio through personal headphones. Then you wouldn’t have to walk out of music-free shops without buying anything, and you would have much more choice. A third of the population is aged over 50. Your hearing changes as you get older and background music can sound louder. Also lots of people, such as Caroline and her son, suffer from sensory problems which can make background music intolerable. They don’t have the choice you have. I think quiet hours should be welcomed

But then you have to keep taking them of. You can;’t just cater to one type of people, its true that hearing changes as pople get older. But alot of people are just frumpy and moan about any noise as the get old.

Like most elderly people complain at the slightest noise from next dors house

Surely people can live without unnecessary noise in public places (what did we ever do before electronics came on the scene to allow this?).

Hi all. Didn’t want to give this Convo an ‘official’ update, as it’s our Guest Caroline’s piece, so going to do so in the comments here 🙂

The National Autistic Society has now launched ‘Autusim Hour’ – it’s asking participating shops and businesses to share info about autism with their customers.

More info here: https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/tmi/autism-hour/about.aspx

I suggested to Morrisons at their public consultation for their new St. Ives, Cambs store.
That they could build in a store wide T-Loop. Pipe the in-store music in antiphase through the T-Loop. This way those with hearing aids will hear the music via the hearing aid microphone and is then mixed with the music in antiphase, thus the music gets cancelled out. Fire Alarm and public PA announcements are sent via the T-Loop in-phase, so they are heard.

This idea could easily be adapted for other groups, or just someone who doesn’t want to hear the music.

The quiet hou r at Morrisons isn’t just lack of music, the bleeps are turned own, trolley movements and thus noise is reduced.

Progress is being made. Yesterday was the first “Purple Tuesday” in the UK, which aimed to highlight the needs of disabled shoppers, including those with “invisible disabilities”, such as autism. Apparently, the Government estimates that the so-called “Purple Pound” – the spending power of the UK’s disabled population – is around £250bn. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/13/purple-tuesday-shop-disability-market
Hopefully, this will gain momentum but we’re still a long way off. “Despite progress in some areas, there is still a long way to go and not just for high street retailers. When the design agency Sigma carried out a mystery shopping exercise in the leisure sector this summer, it found a quarter of businesses could not accommodate a wheelchair and a third were unable to assist with cognitive impairments like autism”.

Archie Meijer says:
12 August 2019

I understand music playing in stores decades ago.
But now everyone has a phone or an ipod that they can play music on if they want to listen to music while shopping, so how come stores still find it necessary to impose a uniform musical experience on everybody at all? They should just stop playing the music altogether. Shoppers who want to listen to music can bring their own.
Another issue is that infernal beeping when people are being rung up at the cash register. Why is that necessary? They don’t have a visual display to tell them that it successfully rang up?