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Retailers ‘go purple’ in support of disabled customers

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Retailers and shopping destinations including Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and centres owned and managed by Intu and The Crown Estate are looking to improve the customer experience for disabled people by supporting Purple Tuesday, taking place today, November 12.

The accessible shopping day is encouraging businesses to improve customer experience for disabled people and their families, following new research that reveals that 75 percent of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, as they were unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability.

Among the biggest complaints from disabled people relate to experiences within the business/organisation premises, with 56 percent stating that they wish staff understood about different disabilities, while 41 percent complained about the overall customer experience, and 41 percent added that the physical accessibility of a store was an issue.

More than 1 in 3 disabled people (34 pecent) added that poor customer service prevented them from making a purchase, while 33 percent blamed a lack of understanding from staff about their needs. Some disabled people responding to the Purple Tuesday charity’s survey said improvements should include ‘being treated the same as anyone else’ and having ‘knowledgeable staff’.

Purple Tuesday bigger than ever as more than 2,500 organisations make pledges to support disabled customers

More than 2,500 businesses, organisations and stores from a range of sectors have collectively pledged to make more than 3,500 long-term changes to the customer experience as part of Purple Tuesday, with retailer Marks and Spencer running a staff colleague campaign ‘Making Every Day Accessible’ this month. It introduced a number of resources for staff that included top tips for “being disability confident” video, a guide on how to run sensory-friendly shopping hours and a new “hard of hearing” uniform.

Zoe Mountford, lead sustainability manager at M&S, said in a statement: “We’re committed to making M&S the UK’s most accessible retailer, whether customers are shopping online or in-store. Earlier this year we became the first retailer to introduce sunflower lanyards for customers with hidden disabilities into all of our stores, this came one year after we launched daywear for children with disabilities and two years after we published AccessAble Guides. We know that the very best thing we can do is give great service and we work hard to make sure all our 80,000 colleagues feel disability confident.

“Purple Tuesday is a great opportunity to remind our stores of all the great resources we have introduced over the past year, such as our colleague guide on how to support customers who are hard of hearing and our top tips video on how to be confident serving customer with disabilities.”

Other businesses participating include Intu shopping centres across the country, which have backed the sunflower lanyard scheme to provide more help to visitors with hidden disabilities. The scheme means that people with invisible conditions can collect and wear a lanyard at any of Intu’s destinations across the country to signal that they may need more support during their visit.

The idea is that it will act as a discreet sign to staff that the wearer could require help or a little extra time with things like finding their way around a centre or store and getting access to a quiet space or close-by toilet facilities, due to conditions such as autism, dementia or diabetes.

Amanda Campbell, corporate affairs and sustainability director at Intu, added: “We want to ensure that Intu’s retail and leisure destinations are accessible and inclusive destinations for everyone. Nobody should feel excluded.

“This will also support our customers to attract more people to their stores, restaurants and leisure attractions by ensuring every visitor feels welcome to enjoy a compelling experience at an Intu centre.”

While at Sainsbury’s and Argos they have announced a new trial of a weekly ‘Sunflower Hour’ in 30 stores, which involves creating a calmer environment by reducing background noise and sensory overload that launches on Purple Tuesday. The trial gives customers the option to pick up a sunflower lanyard which has been purposely designed to act as a discreet sign for store colleagues to recognise if they may need to provide a customer with additional support. Sainsbury’s was the first retailer to trial this initiative in 2018.

In addition, The Crown Estate has stated it is working to assess the accessibility of its places in order to provide better information for disabled people and to identify areas for plan improvement.

Purple Pound worth 249 billion pounds

The purple pound is worth 249 billion pounds and is rising by an average of 14 percent per annum, according to the ‘Leading from the front, Disability and the role of the Board’ report from KPMG in May 2018. Yet it is estimated that less than 10 percent of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market. Purple Tuesday’s research shows that more than 80 percent of disabled people say businesses could do more to be accessible and encourage them to spend money.

Mike Adams, chief executive of Purple, said: “Meeting the needs of disabled customers makes commercial sense for organisations of all sizes, from all sectors, but our message to organisations is: you don’t have to spend big budgets to make lasting change. That’s why we’re urging organisations to focus on improvements that go ‘beyond the front door’.

“Introducing staff training and improving website accessibility are low cost changes, but the difference to a company’s bottom line – as well as to a disabled consumer’s personal experience – can be significant.”

Purple Tuesday’s advice for how organisations can improve their approach to disabled consumers:

  • Conducting an online audit of your website to improve accessibility
  • Training staff to know and understand how to communicate effectively with disabled customers
  • Getting front line staff to learn basic British Sign Langue skills to communicate with those customers from the deaf community
  • Conducting an on-site audit to ensure the physical space is suitable for every customer to get around the area easily
  • Improving wayfair signage around the facility
  • Introducing quiet hours on a regular basis to help people who struggle with music, tannoys and noise
  • Adams added: “Purple Tuesday has more than doubled in size this year, with more than 2,500 organisations from a variety of sectors making commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled people. These are long-term changes that will have a lasting impact for millions of customers – and improve the commercial opportunities for the organisations involved.”

    Image: courtesy of Purple Tuesday

    Inclusive fashion
    Intu Group
    Marks and Spencer
    purple tuesday
    The Crown Estate