Stores are places were our senses are bombarded with information. There’s almost always music playing, a large amount of things to choose from and bright fluorescent lighting. Add to that presence of other shoppers and it’ll be clear that brain injury and stores aren’t always a good combination.
In my old life I never was an avid shopper, nevertheless I enjoyed going shopping with friends once in a while. Those were, in hindsight, the good old days. When my annoyances were limited to having to wait in line for a changing room, not finding your size, or having to navigate through a packed shopping street.
Shopping, even just to get the groceries, now feels like a necessary evil. Luckily nowadays you can order plenty of things online, but sometimes going to an actual store is just easier and faster. Instead of a -more or less- relaxing activity, shopping has turned into a true expedition. One that has to be prepared, planned and executed according to plan. Without planning or preparation, I’ll forget what I need and rapidly get overwhelmed, which results in having to abort the shopping expedition all together.
Planning & preparation
So I have bring the right accessories; earplugs, sunglasses or hat and a shopping list. The shopping list has to be ordered to the store layout. The quickest way to get everything I need from the entrance all the way to the check out. Naturally timing is also important. It has to be during a day at which I can recover and rest afterwards and I want to be in the shop after the shelves have been stocked and before it gets busy. Once again it’s a true balancing act.
When I’m finally in a more or less quiet store, there’s only one thing left to do. Not to get distracted. To avoid looking around, but to stick to the list, pay and go back home. Getting distracted means I’ll start thinking “That looks good, what can I make with it? Will I need to buy others ingredients as well? When can I make it? How much time will that take? Do I have the time this week?” or if it’s clothing “Can I wear this already? Which items can I wear with it? When can I wear it this week? Can I wear it to work? Do I have matching shoes?” and so on.
Thinking means I’ll lose time and energy. Energy and time that are better used for the shopping itself. As the whole shopping expedition has to be completed in no more than twenty minutes. Any longer and my brain will require rest. Thinking becomes harder, I get dizzy, shortness of breath, walk into things and just want to leave the store as fast as possible.
After another failed shopping attempt this week (they’d changed the layout of the store resulting in me not being able to find anything) I started to think about my ideal kind of store. A store with less sensory stimuli. One that may even save you some energy.
My ideal store would have a map you can find online, so you can plan your route. You’ll be notified of any changes in the layout at the entrance. No music will be playing and even the cash registers will be silent. And naturally you don’t have to pass every item in the store before you get to the registers. If daylight is insufficient, soft lighting will be used. Finally instead of full shelves with twenty varieties of the same item, there’ll be less to choose from and an emptier store.
As I’ll get quickly overwhelmed by all the visual information if I have to look for a certain item. All those different items on the shelves will have packages with bright colours and large print, to grab your attention. My brain struggles with filtering out unimportant information, hence looking for something, feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s utterly exhausting.
I would like a store that resembles this ideal. Or at least shares some of the characteristics. I read about a superstore in England some time ago, which started with a weekly ‘quiet hour’ in order to accommodate shoppers that are sensitive to sound. I hope more stores will follow this example. Until then, shopping will remain something that I have to prepare and plan.