Sensory Hours Create an Inclusive Shopping Experience

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What are sensory hours? What measures are implemented during sensory hours? What companies have adopted them?

Major chains like Walmart now offer special “sensory hours” to create a low-stimulus shopping environment for customers with sensory sensitivities. Experts say sensory accommodations benefit both consumers who struggle with noisy and crowded stores and companies seeking to expand their customer base.

Continue reading to learn about sensory hours and the impact they have on customers and businesses.

More Companies Are Adopting Sensory Hours

In early November, Walmart enacted daily “sensory hours” at its US stores to create a more inclusive shopping experience for millions of Americans. 


Sensory hours are specific shopping times in which stores dial down potential sources of distraction, irritation, or sensory overload that can distress or overwhelm people with sensory processing disorders.

Research indicates that sensory processing issues impact up to 16% of school-aged children, and one in 20 people in the general population. These issues are more commonly found among individuals with autism, ADHD, migraines, and brain injuries

Sensory accommodations first started with “sensory-friendly hours” at museums, theaters, and other public venues over the last decade. The Smithsonian Institute, a pioneer of the practice, began offering special early visiting times for families of children with autism in 2011.

Measures that retailers often implement during sensory hours include:

  • Setting automatic doors to stay open
  • Turning off music, PA systems, and hand dryers
  • Turning down checkout scanners’ volume
  • Dimming lights
  • Removing scented products

Major Companies That Embrace Sensory Hours 

Walmart’s sensory hours started as a temporary, Saturday morning trial this summer. Based on an overwhelmingly positive response, the company has said the hours will continue indefinitely, nationwide. From 8 to 10 a.m. daily.

Walmart joins a growing group of major companies implementing sensory-friendly initiatives, including:

The Impact of Sensory Hours

Though hard data on sensory hours is limited, researchers studying retail quiet hours assert that lowering noise levels benefits people with neurodivergence as well as those without it.

Experts further contend that sensory hours benefit companies by:

  • Expanding their consumer base. Inclusive practices draw in new and loyal customers who otherwise avoid busy, mainstream shopping environments, including members of the neurodiverse community.
  • Generating positive publicity. For example, this year, for the eighth year in a row, Walmart received a score of 100% on the American Association of People with Disabilities’ Disability Equality Index.

Looking Ahead

Some believe that Walmart’s commitment to sensory inclusivity might inspire rivals to implement similar practices. However, others warn of potential risks, noting such a move could alienate a core part of Walmart’s customer base, possibly triggering a backlash akin to Bud Lite’s fiasco, which led to dwindling sales and the resignation of its chief marketing officer. 

Either way, experts say that companies seeking to implement sensory-friendly policies should involve their entire team in the process. The most successful sensory transformations come from engaging front-line workers. Their direct interactions with customers give them critical insights into on-the-ground problems and necessary modifications to address them. They’re also the best equipped to execute solutions.

Sensory Hours Create an Inclusive Shopping Experience

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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