Poor customer service and a lack of staff understanding are among the key barriers preventing disabled consumers purchasing goods and services, new research published for Purple Tuesday reveals.
The research has prompted calls for businesses and organisations to rethink how they target disabled consumers and their families, whose spending power – the so-called Purple Pound – is estimated to be £249 billion every year.
75% of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability1. New research shows that most complaints from disabled people relate to experiences within the business/organisation premises, with disabled people more likely to spend money with organisations if they improve2:
● staff understanding about different disabilities (56%)
● the overall customer experience for disabled people (41%)
● store/shop/location accessibility (41%)
● improve website accessibility (16%)
More than 1 in 3 disabled people (34%) said poor customer service prevented them from making a purchase, while 33% blamed a lack of understanding from staff about their needs. Some disabled respondents said improvements should include ‘being treated the same as anyone else’ and having ‘knowledgeable staff’.
The research has led Purple Tuesday to call on organisations to focus on straightforward, low-cost solutions to improve the customer experience for disabled people – changes that go Beyond the Front Door. Of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, 80% have a hidden impairment, meaning improvements and enhancements are needed to improve access for disabled people, beyond having a ramp installed to help access enter a site.
More than 2000 businesses, organisations and stores from a range of sectors have made more than 3500 pledges to make long-term changes as part of Purple Tuesday on 12 November. This includes:
● Sainsbury’s and Argos, who 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.
● Microsoft Store, which has committed to educating not only the community but retail businesses on how to create accessible retail experiences, work environments and improving the lives of customers and employees living with disabilities.
● The Crown Estate, which 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.
● Arsenal FC, which has a Sensory Room and Sensory Sensitive viewing room for people who are Autistic or who have Sensory Needs and their families. Arsenal have also launched their first Sensory Hour within the club shop and have introduced a bespoke workshop on Sensory needs for all match day stewards and other key public facing members of staff, as well as launching a new service for deaf or hard of hearing fans that use British Sign Language and setting up a Disability Forum.
● M&S, which is committed to being the U.K.’s most accessible retailer and has introduced a number of improvements to its stores and website over the past few years – including becoming the first retailer to introduce Sunflower Lanyards into all stores for those with hidden disabilities. Earlier this month M&S ran a colleague campaign “Making Every Day Accessible” introducing a number of resources for colleagues including a top tips for being disability confident video, a guide on how to run sensory friendly shopping hours and a new ‘hard of hearing’ uniform.
● Blakemore Retail, which is providing training for 4300 staff and making training available to their 700 independent SPAR Retailers
Mike Adams OBE, 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 has more than doubled in size this year, with more than 2000 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.”
The purple pound is worth £249 billion and is rising by an average of 14% per annum, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market. 3 Purple Tuesday’s research shows that more than 80% of disabled people say businesses could do more to be accessible and encourage them to spend money.
Organisations can contact Purple for advice on how they can improve their approach to disabled consumers. Example changes include:
• 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.
Last year more than 750 organisations participated in Purple Tuesday, making a collective 1,500 commitments to improve how they meet the needs of disabled consumers.
Participating organisations comments
Baroness Karren Brady, West Ham United Vice-Chairman, said:
“Equality is at the heart of everything we do at West Ham United and ensuring that our club is accessible to everyone is a way of thinking which is embedded throughout our club.
“The Disabled Supporters’ Board, which I am proud to Chair alongside our fantastic supporter co-Chairs, has led the way on these important topics since moving to London Stadium. There are obvious ways in which our fans see this; through services like our 18 strong fleet of free supporter shuttle buses on matchdays which just gets bigger and better, our disability liaison officers around the stadium, new audio commentary devices with wider range of collections points, or the installation of RADAR lock system across all accessible toilets throughout the stadium.
“Purple Tuesday is a fantastic initiative going on across the nation in lots of different shops, and we’re proud to support it for the second year running.”
Tim Fallowfield, Board Sponsor for Disability Carers and Age at Sainsbury’s and Argos, comments:
“We’re proud to show our continued support to Purple Tuesday and believe all our customers should feel confident when shopping, all year round. Not all disabilities are visible so by taking steps such as introducing a weekly Sunflower Hour, we hope to provide an enhanced experience and reassurance for our customers.”
John Carter, Senior Store Manager of the flagship Microsoft Store in London, said:
“Technology is a tool for everyone and our products and services are designed for people of all abilities. We are supporting Purple Tuesday’s call to improve the customer experience for disabled people, by inviting retailers to learn how to create accessible experiences and cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplace for customers and employees. We will also be running free customer workshops on our accessibility tools and features. From supporting students living with dyslexia to read with confidence, to helping people with limited mobility to write with their voice, we’re calling for everyone to learn how accessibility tools can empower you to achieve more in your life.”
Judith Everett, Chief Operating Officer at The Crown Estate, said:
“We recognise the need to improve the experience for disabled people whether shopping, eating out or at work and, with some of the world’s most historic and iconic destinations on our portfolio, we’re proud to support Purple Tuesday and play our part in generating meaningful long-term change.
“Over the past year we have continued to progress on our disability journey and have carried out detailed audits of our websites and some of our most popular destinations, including Regent Street and flagship retail centres around the UK. We are also working closely with our extensive network to raise awareness and provide practical tips on changes that can be made to target disabled customers.”
Zoe Mountford, Lead Sustainability Manger at Marks & Spencer said:
“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.”
Alun Francis, Arsenal’s Disability Access Officer, said:
“We recognise that British Sign Language is most deaf people’s first language. As part of our Arsenal for Everyone programme we are committed to making our services as accessible as possible to everyone. This new service is part of this.
Helen Honstvet, Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said:
“It’s great to see so many big names supporting Purple Tuesday and trying to make shopping more inclusive and accessible. We recognise that many retailers have come a long way, but we still hear all too often from people with sight loss who face persistent and unnecessary difficulties when shopping.
“When somewhere like a shop or restaurant can’t or won’t accommodate someone with sight loss, that’s not only potentially illegal but it can also be a huge blow to that person’s feelings of acceptance in society and willingness to go out independently.
“At Guide Dogs we help people with sight loss to have independence – whether that’s through our life-changing guide dog partnerships or other services. If an individual is prevented from making a purchase due to their sight loss, it can understandably knock their confidence and stop them living life to the full.”
Matt Teague, Managing Director, Blakemore Retail, said:
“We are proud to support the step change that Purple Tuesday drives. We understand the importance of creating an inclusive and positive shopping experience for all of our customers, no matter their personal needs. For the second year running we’ll be training all of our store staff to ensure that they are considerate of all shoppers needs - as well as providing them with hints and tips on how to create a positive customer experience. It’s important that we all get on-board with this campaign and I really hope you will join the campaign to make a difference”