Big department stores can be overwhelming for anyone during the holiday season. There’s loud music, bright lights, crowded aisles, beeping price scanners, and people rushing around. When I think of Walmart I think of peak “holiday chaos,” especially on Black Friday and during the weeks leading up to Christmas. But the big box retailer started something new this month in an effort to make the store more palatable and less stimulating for people with sensory-processing disorders. They’re offering sensory-friendly shopping hours.
Every day between the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. all Walmart stores throughout the U.S. will offer sensory-friendly hours. “During these hours, we hope our customers and associates will find the stores to be a little easier on the eyes and ears,” a rep for Walmart said in a press release. During this time they change the TV walls to a static image, turn off the radio, and lower the lights where possible.
Walmart first experimented with sensory-friendly shopping hours during the 2023 back-to-school season. At that time, they offered the experience for only a couple of hours on Saturdays. The retailer says they received overwhelmingly positive feedback and that’s why they decided to offer the experience daily.
While the program is designed to be inclusive for people with sensory processing disorders, the store will remain open to all shoppers. Mental health experts say it could be a good idea for anyone feeling the pull of holiday stress to take advantage of it.
“Honestly, even those who don’t think they are getting overstimulated can benefit from a calm environment such as what is being created here,” says Ruth Zeman, Ph.D. Psychology. “Our bodies are always actively filtering information and by reducing the load we give our brains and hormones a chance to catch up, calm down, or simply remain at peace.”
In years past, Walmart has been ground zero for some of the zaniest holiday shopping headlines. It wasn’t long ago that people spent the night camped outside the store and then physically fought over Tickle Me Elmos, big-screen TVs, and small appliances. But those days have slowly been replaced by a calmer Christmas season.
These sensory-friendly hours seem to be an extension of a new commitment from retailers to listen to the modern consumer’s wants and needs. Dr. Zeman says, “Holiday stress is real. Add in extra sugar, and financial and familial demands, we need every advantage to remain in balance mentally and physically.”
At this time, Walmart has no plans to end the sensory-friendly shopping hours program. It started on November 10, 2023, and will run indefinitely. The company says it welcomes feedback on how to enhance sensory-friendly measures in its stores.