Creating an inclusive retail environment for neurodivergent shoppers

It is reported that at least 20% of the global population (1 in 5) identify as neurodivergent. In 2018, Aspect estimated that approximately 1 in 70 Australians are autistic. 

It’s these kinds of figures, along with the personal lived experiences of the neurodivergent community that led Natalie Phillips-Mason, a parent of someone who is neurodivergent, to explore how we can create a more inclusive society. Natalie founded Inclusive Change, an organisation that helps Australian companies to embed neuroinclusivity into their workplaces and retail environments.

Inclusive Change recently partnered with Nature – a strategic consumer insights consultancy to explore how we can create a more inclusive retail experience for neurodivergent consumers. The exciting thing about this research project is it brought together the voices of Australians who identify as being neurodivergent or caring for someone who is, and the voices of those who do not identify as having a neurodivergent profile – neurotypical.

Neurodiversity can center on how a person interacts with others and experiences the physical environment around them. Characteristics of being neurodivergent include interests, communication styles, social interactions, sensory reactions, and experiencing & displaying emotions. The research project commissioned reflected on these elements and explored initiatives the retail sector can implement.

Findings

The research tested a number of components of the retail experience and interestingly found that feedback from neurodiverse respondents was supported by the feedback of neurotypical shoppers.

Quiet hours are a dedicated time in the day, where retail stores adopt a low sensory environment to aid shoppers. Actions include reducing store lighting, turning down the instore radio, not making PA announcements, and scanners being turned down too.

The research found that 70% of Neurodivergent respondents and 58% of neurotypical respondents agreed that quiet hours make meaningful difference to neurodivergent people when shopping.

The project explored which elements of the sensory experience were the most difficult when shopping. Both sets of respondents reported that ‘loud music or competing noises/sound’ were the most impactful, followed by ‘perfume or intense smells.

 

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Neurotypical shoppers also identified challenges with the retail experience and overlapping barriers. Particularly cluttered shop floors, returns & exchange processes and changing store layouts’ being identified as the most significant ones.

Opportunities

Several opportunities were identified where retailers can take steps to improve the environment for shoppers. 

  1. Explore the research further – Contact Natalie and the team to gain access to the full report’s findings and reflect on how this could be relevant to your stores. 
  2. Identify inclusive opportunities for products, customer service and store layout – can we improve the holistic retail offer? 
  3. Educate workforcedo our staff understand how they can support our customer base? What are the areas of development to address their knowledge and experience gaps? 
  4. Think about the employee lived experienceIf 1 in 5 people globally identify as neurodivergent, it is likely to impact on the workforce. Supporting our colleagues is vital to retain staff and improve employee success. 

Retail stores & Shopping centres provide a hub for communities, they support local businesses and local jobs. Embracing the diversity of our customer base will only strengthen our ability to operate and thrive as an industry. 

Webinar  

Natalie Philips-Mason & Chris Cook joined Jason Robertson –  Director of Policy, Sustainability & Impact, to explore the research and discuss its recommendations as part of our webinar series here. 

Learn more about Inclusive Change and download the 2023 Neurodiversity in Retail report. This report sets the benchmark for Australian retailers to better understand barriers, and further explore the opportunities for connecting with, and meeting the needs of, customers with non-apparent differences and disabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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