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EDITORIAL Black Friday bounce may not be enough – maybe inclusivity is the key?

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Peak is underway, kicked off in the US with Veterans’ Day and swiftly followed up with China’s enormous Singles’ Day and the countdown to Black Friday and, beyond that, Christmas itself has begun. Yet hoping for this to rectify what has been a poor sales year looks like a vain hope.

Figures out this week from IMRG point to 2019 being, so far, a very bad year compared to 2018, which wasn’t exactly one of the best itself and, while there is every chance that there will be un uptick in sales across the latter part of the year, it won’t be enough to see any retail growth. Quite the reverse, in fact: we are looking at shrinkage.

The list of woes as to why this is happening is a long one. Brexit, of course, is on it, but so too are dampened consumer confidence and the relentless cycle of discounting. In fact, this is one of the big issues with Black Friday – it is so driven by discounting that it is starting to be more of a problem than a solution.

What is interesting about the list of problems posited by IMRG as to why sales are so slow is a lack of technology. It cites smartphones and tablets as changing how people shop and that that, in turn, drove new ways for retailers to engage with them and led to more sales. With nothing ‘new’ coming along there has been no new ways to engage consumers.

IMRG looks to voice assistants as being a potential newbie that could help, but as has been borne out over recent months, voice commerce has stalled. And if any one has actually tried to use it, it isn’t all that.

But perhaps retailers are looking in the wrong place. This week also saw Purple Tuesday – the day when retail is devoted to awareness of how it services the disabled. Or rather, how it still fails to service the disabled. This year Purple Tuesday was marked by a study that showed that, while some small progress has been made to make stores more accessible – and I am talking tiny steps here – online is a pretty much a no-go area if you have a disability.

While this is a terrible thing and needs to be rectified, for retailers the hard and fast truth is that, but shutting out the proportion of shoppers who have a disability – not least the one in ten of us that has poor or failing eyesight that means we are technically blind – they are losing literally billions of pounds.

At a time when sales are so slow and things so dire, ignoring such a sizeable amount of money is at best cavalier, at worst idiotic. Excluding the most vulnerable of society – especially when successive governments have essentially robbed them to pay off the banks – is a terrible reflection of where we are at as a society. But even if you want to view yourself as a harsh capitalist rather than, like me, a soppy beardy socialist, then not taking their spending money to keep shops alive is almost as wrong.

With a general election in full swing I like to think that the voters will surprise us and deliver something different – and maybe if that happens we will see a change in attitude that will filter down to retail so that the disabled get a fair look in and that we all treat people a bit better. It may also make some money too. What more could a society want?

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