All quiet on the Exchange front during sensory shopping hours

A peaceful time at the Exchange. Photo by Balmina Sehra.

By Balmina Sehra
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs

Dimmed lights, no music, and a calm, refreshing atmosphere enveloped Stuttgart’s Army Air Force Exchange Service main store (PX) during their inaugural sensory shopping day on Nov. 18, a worldwide first for the “we go where you go” organization.

The one hour of hustle-free shopping, a contrast to the store’s usual holiday buzz, was a commitment the store workers aimed to fulfill for their most vulnerable customers. At the entrance, children and adults could choose from fidget spinners and bubblesquares to keep in their pockets and play with while walking around the store.

“As we continue to evolve as retailers, we recognize that we have to be more inclusive to our community members,” said Carla McDowell, Exchange general manager, about the pilot program.

The Stuttgart Exchange plans to host sensory shopping every second Saturday of the month from 7:55 to 8:55 a.m. Part of the shopping experience includes the opportunity to see and touch items before purchasing them.

“Customers want to see how items function in reality when they shop in person. They like to see TVs in their full glory. However, it is impossible to give both sets of customers the same experience simultaneously. This is a great solution for people who want to experience shopping in a less crowded and overwhelming space,” said Robert Boylan, the PX store manager.

To ensure a more peaceful and relaxed shopping experience, all TVs and the beeps at the checkout counters are turned off, and the lights are dimmed.

AAFES Exchange employees are excited about this new program and are encouraging community members to participate, as it will help them provide the best service for all customers.

Fidget Spinners and Bubblesquares were on hand for customers. Photo by Balmina Sehra.

“The community members drive this program, so we need people to come and give us their honest feedback so we can continue improving our service,” McDowell said.

“I’m super excited about this event today. We want to make it an exclusive shopping environment and give people who would otherwise be hesitant to come out, and benefit from the service the Exchange can provide for them,” said Boylan.

McDowell is looking forward to having more customers make use of sensory shopping hours.

“The Exchange is here for the community. We serve a community that protects our freedom. It’s not just the service members on the frontlines, but also their families who are here deployed with them. And we want them to have the best service we can provide,” she said.


If you would like to experience a calmer shopping environment, stop by the Panzer Exchange during their Sensory Shopping hour. Upcoming dates are Feb. 10, March 9, and April 13.

This story is found in the First Quarter 2024 Edition of the Stuttgart Citizen magazine.