4 ways to make your store more autism-friendly

Over the last few years, footwear retailer Charles Clinkard have been hosting an Autism Awareness campaign to ensure that children with autism are comfortable in their stores. Here, the company’s Ecommerce Director, Rachel Clinkard, shares the things you can do to help ease anxiety in children with autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects people in different ways. For some, it can cause a sensitivity to light and sound, for others, social situations or unfamiliar places can cause extreme anxiety (NHS). This means shopping can be incredibly stressful for someone with autism, as well as for their families. So, many stores have chosen to host a regular autism hour, where they make a few changes to their retail environment to help make shopping a more welcoming experience. Below, I’ll be going through just some of the ways you can adapt your store to reduce anxiety in autistic children.

Avoid bright lights and loud sounds

For some children with autism, the bright lights and loud sounds of a retail environment can be overwhelming and might make shopping stressful. But you can make a huge difference to their shopping experience by dimming your store lights, muting checkout noises, turning off in-store music, and avoiding making any tannoy announcements. If you’ve got any television screens or digital displays, it’s worth turning these off as well.

Train your staff

Before hosting your first autism hour, make sure you train your staff in the ways they can cater to someone with autism. Although everyone with the condition is different (and no one expects your staff to be experts) just having a bit of extra information can help make your employees feel more confident to serve autistic customers.

Offer a bespoke service

In some cases, it might also be helpful if you offer a bespoke service. This means you can ask parents beforehand what their child’s needs are, so you can prepare before they arrive. For example, you may need to assign them a specific member of staff that the child is familiar with. Or, you may need to send informational videos or leaflets showing what it’s like to shop in your store, so the child knows what to expect. It’s a good idea to keep all of this information on file so you can refer back to it the next time the family visits.

Create a relaxation area

Despite these changes, some children may still get anxious while shopping in your store. Don’t be discouraged if this happens, but make sure you set up a quiet area in your shop — complete with beanbags and chairs — where families can go to calm down. For example, a space in your storeroom or a dressing room would be a good place. Just knowing that they have somewhere to relax can be a big relief for your customers.

Although shopping can be an overwhelming experience for a child with autism, by following these tips, you can help make your store more welcoming.

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