UK retailers are losing millions of pounds of revenue every year by turning their backs on disabled consumers.
More than 13 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – are disabled, while a new poll of people who consider themselves to be disabled has revealed that respondents spend on average £163 on retail every month. Nearly a third (29%) of disabled people spend money with retail businesses every week.
But more than half of respondents to a new study are struggling to make purchases of a product/service due to their disability. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) fare the worst – more than three-quarters of them say they have found it difficult to buy goods online or in person due to their disability on more than one occasion.
Some four in five disabled customers say businesses could do more to be accessible – and more than half (56%) agreed that improving staff understanding about different disabilities would encourage them to spend their disposable income, estimated to be £249 billion a year. Separate research has shown that 75% of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability.
Respondents state that retail is the most accessible business to purchase from, followed by banking and hospitality/leisure/restaurants. The research comes as businesses and organisations prepare for ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 12 November, a day which celebrates UK companies that are improving the customer experience for disabled shoppers. Major names taking part include Sainsbury’s and Intu.
Mike Adams OBE, Chief Executive of Purple, the disability organisation behind Purple Tuesday, explains: “While many UK businesses and organisations are stepping up to the mark and making the changes needed to improve disabled customers’ experiences, far too many are not. This is a huge mistake, not least because by turning their backs on disabled shoppers, they are losing out on millions of pounds of revenue every year.”
Adams continues: “It should simply not be the case that one in two disabled people struggle to make purchases online or in person. Small changes can make a big difference to the customer experience; we want to help organisations have the confidence to improve their services for disabled people.”
Disabled consumers told pollsters that inaccessible and unusable locations, poor customer service and a lack of understanding about disabilities were the main reasons they struggled to spend their money.
More than 1 in 5 said that hiring more disabled people would make them more likely to make a purchase and some stated that “wider aisles” or “lighter doors” would have the same effect. The findings support previous research, which shows that less than 10% of organisations have a dedicated strategy for targeting disabled customers.
The potential of the purple pound is clear - disabled people say they spend on average £163 on retail per month, £98 on travel, £69 on insurance, £78 on hospitality (such as at restaurants or on leisure activities) and £19 on gym or health activities.
Carole Hughes, from Liverpool, was born with spina bifida and has been using a wheelchair since 2015. She shops regularly at large supermarkets and department stores around the city. She says: “I often have problems getting around stores and supermarkets, either because the aisles are too narrow or there are items blocking the way. It can be a challenge to find staff who are willing to help – sometimes I’m made to feel like a nuisance when I ask for basic assistance.
“There needs to be more consistency with staff training. Other things like making more doors open automatically and locating accessible parking spaces close to store entrances also make a huge difference to wheelchair users.
“I’d urge all organisations to sign up to Purple Tuesday and make sure they are providing a better shopping experience to their disabled customers.”
Organisations that register for Purple Tuesday will benefit from free resources from Purple on topics such as website accessibility and customer service training. In exchange, Purple asks that business make a minimum of one commitment to improve the customer experience for disabled people.
These commitments might be major transformations or simple, smaller steps that can improve the experience of disabled customers. Examples include conducting an audit of an organisation’s website to ensure it is accessible or staff training to help them communicate effectively with disabled consumers.