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It has long been reported that the retail industry is failing to attract the Purple Pound. With more than 12 million disabled people in the UK and a combined spending power of around £274 billion (Source: Purple), that is a large customer base to ignore.
Covid-19 has brought with it additional challenges. Retail accessibility underwent a major change after shops re-opened over the summer, with new layouts in force, and the redesign of public spaces to prioritise social distancing has also impacted disabled customers.
There may have been some positive outcomes (e.g. more sanitised surroundings and less crowded stores), but queuing to enter; one-way systems adding to the longevity of the overall shopping trip; and the lack of close support from shop workers are just some of the additional hurdles created.
Many customers have increased their use of online, but it can be difficult for people with a disability to know what clothes will be suitable without first having to over-order and then send a lot of them back.
With a large proportion of the retail industry struggling to cope with the impact of Covid-19, are retailers pushing the accessibility agenda further down their priority list? Do the current circumstances actually present a good opportunity for retailers to do more?
We spoke to Adrian Ward, head of business disability partnerships at Business Disability Forum, who says: “Ensuring products and service are fully accessible to customers should be an absolute priority for those in the retail sector. Your online presence, the products you sell, the accessibility of your premises and facilities are all key components that should be considered as well as ensuring that staff feel confident in supporting and assisting disabled customers where required.
“There is still much to do in this space and here at Business Disability Forum we continue to work with organisations to ensure that a disabled person has the same customer experience as a non-disabled person. Not only is this morally the right approach, there is also a sound business angle to consider when you factor in the Purple Pound.”
It has already become clear that the high street will look very different once the pandemic is over. We are likely to be left with a smaller but more resilient sector – those businesses that have been flexible and reacted to the changes quickly both in their stores and online.
Forward-looking retailers could use this as an opportunity to rethink their store propositions and online offerings in order to attract a higher share of the Purple Pound revenue.
We will be shortly publishing an interview with Chloe Ball Hopkins. Chloe is a freelance journalist, archery champion and champion of inclusive fashion. She was born with arthrogryposis, which led to numerous operations on her legs, and she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy aged four. Her mission is to create clothes that help people like her feel comfortable and fashionable whilst being in a wheelchair all day.
In our interview Chloe talks about the problems she experiences when clothes shopping and the impact of the pandemic; her views on the current online offerings in relation to adaptive clothing; and what retailers could be doing to improve accessibility.
As well as the interview with Chloe, we will be publishing a series of articles over the coming months that tackle some of the legal and commercial issues arising from the need to make retail and fashion more accessible to the disabled shopper.
Watch Chloe’s TED Talk on ‘Why isn’t fashion inclusive of disabled people?’
16 October 2020
by Emma Flower