Adam Harris, Founder and CEO of AsIAm, and Nessa Maher, Assistant Manager Penneys, Mary St., pictured at the launch of autism-friendly shopping at Penneys flagship store on Dublin’s Mary Street.

Autism-friendly shopping to be introduced in Athlone Penneys store

Penneys is to introduce autism-friendly shopping experiences in its Athlone store and at 35 other locations nationwide, in order to create an inclusive shopping experience for autistic people, their family and friends.

The initiative has been developed in partnership with AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity.

Every Sunday, starting from 14 November, autistic people and those close to them can visit Penneys stores during the Sensory Friendly Shopping Hour, which is the first hour of store opening, secure in the knowledge that several measures are in place to ensure a calmer and more inclusive shopping experience.

These measures include noise reduction across the store such as silencing tills and in-store announcements and turning off in-store music, while also offering additional assistance and support from in-store champions who have all received specialised training from AsIAm.

The use of stock movement equipment such as trolleys, totes, rails, returns rails and cages will also be stopped during the hour, alongside instore moves or replenishment activities.

There will be no contractor maintenance activity unless essential and no testing any alarms with sound.

A queue marshal will be positioned at till points to help provide assistance and direct customers to the next available till point in a quiet manner, and additional assistance will be provided to customers if required.

As part of the Autism-Friendly Shopping Experience, Penneys has also created special digital support materials accessible on the Penneys website to ensure that shopping is more accessible for autistic people outside of the Sensory Friendly Shopping Hour.

Customers can visit the relevant store page and, through visual and audio aids, prepare themselves for the sights and sounds they may experience while in store that may cause sensory overload. It also includes a store map and visual guide called 'My Trip to Penneys' to prepare for their visit and help identify how they can navigate through the store when they arrive. Customers will also be able to easily access these online supports through QR codes placed in-store.

Commenting on the initiative, Damien O’Neill, Head of Sales at Penneys, said:

“Penneys is for everyone, we want everyone to feel welcome in our stores and we understand that for some customers we need to adapt the way we work to provide a better experience. This is just one of the ways we’re doing that and we’ve learnt a lot through AsIAm about how making some small changes can have a big impact.

“We are really looking forward to continuing our work with AsIAm as we work to raise awareness and understanding of autism among our colleagues and in our stores.”

AsIAm also conducted thorough audits of Penneys stores and highlighted areas of high sensory input as well as a list of recommendations to create a more comfortable shopping experience for autistic people during all trading hours.

Adam Harris, Founder and CEO of AsIAm, and Caroline McCarthy, People & Culture Manager, Penneys. Photo by Naoise Culhane

Adam Harris, Founder and CEO, AsIAm, said:

"Shopping and the retail environment can be an incredibly overwhelming experience for autistic people and their families, due to crowded environments and the sensory overload from noises. We are delighted in AsIAm to have partnered with Penneys to make shopping more accessible for our community.

"Outside of the weekly sensory friendly shopping hour, we wanted to ensure that meaningful accommodations were in place all of the time that will enable an autistic person or their family to comfortably navigate the shopping environment, as well as training all Penneys staff in understanding autism.

"We are very excited to start this journey and to continue to work together in our commitment to making shopping as inclusive as possible."