Understanding and accepting autism in retail

customer, pay, POS, card, checkoutWhat are you doing to ensure you are not excluding customers? How about when it comes to the world’s largest minority? And by that I mean people on the autism spectrum.

Here’s the maths: At least one out of every 68 people in the world are on the autism spectrum. The combined population of Australia and New Zealand is around 28 million. That equals 400,000 autistic people, which impacts 400,000 families.

That adds up to approximately 1.5 million people in New Zealand and Australia. That’s a sizeable market in anyone’s book – and that excludes those individuals professionally linked to or supporting autism.

There is little evidence of retail being proactive in wooing this increasingly influential group. A small example of this was a father looking to buy a desktop computer for his daughter. Before hitting the high streets, he decided to call a number of the major outlets on what they recommended for a 12-year old girl.

The response was positive – until he asked if the merchandise was suitable for an autistic person. What followed was a dearth of comprehension as to the relevance of their product and ignorance on how to deal with differently-abled.

The father decided to go ahead and visit a couple of the retailers in person. Unfortunately the experience was much the same, albeit the odd salesperson managed to suggest an appropriate product and explain why it was appropriate for his daughter. Encouraged, he delved deeper, only to discover the know-how came from personal experience and not from any training program or ethos ingrained within the business.

There is an overabundance of more serious experiences with autistic people – the autistic girl removed from an American airline because of an ineptly trained workforce, or the more recent account by a Face Value Comic creator who had a poor experience because of an ignorant theme park provider.

The autism collective is looking beyond awareness and now demanding unconditional inclusion. Good business suggests industry take heed and be proactive in attracting this significant section of the population’s patronage.

Voluntary acceptance will be so much easier, profitable, moral and consequential than the inevitable alternative that awaits. Here are a few ways retailers can better understand and accept autism:

Get in touch – With support groups, communities, families and employees. You will be surprised how many differently-abled people already work with you.

Get educated – Understand autism, and that understanding will then influence your leadership and your company’s culture. Most differently-abled communities have similar expectations and requirements and expect little more than inclusion – autism is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Get proactive – Test the waters, have a go, listen and be prepared to consider outside the box. Above all, get involved with the communities other than monitory.

Get rewarded – The more inclusive your business, the more customers you attract, the more communities you engage and the greater your acceptance and loyalty.

Better still, employ someone with intimate knowledge to gain insight as to what meaningful inclusion entails. It’s not as daunting, disruptive or expensive as you may imagine – quite the contrary, actually.

Inclusive retail is imperative.

Dave Farrell is a retailer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at alliance@vodafone.co.nz.



  1. Dave Farrell posted on April 26, 2016

    Much appreciated Paul. Will definitely take a look at your link. Thanks for sharing.

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