Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, took place today and was embraced by many retailers and the wider industry.
From Argos and Asda to Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, from Bullring owner Hammerson to Regent Street landlord The Crown Estate, more than 700 businesses made special effort to create better customer experiences for disabled people.
Asda, for instance, has been trying out “inclusive hours” in shops in Kent and Manchester, designed to cater for people with autism and dementia who can become stressed by noise and disturbance, and has trained more than 1,000 staff for the initiative. Hammerson ran a similar programme at most of its centres.
Purple Tuesday deserves support from retailers for reasons altruistic and commercial.
As good corporate citizens, it makes sense for retailers to welcome as diverse a customer base as possible, and it’s good from a reputational perspective.
But as many retailers battle to win sales in tough trading conditions, it makes no sense for them not to throw open their doors to people who would spend money with them if they were more accessible.
As the organisers of the event – disability organisation Purple – point out, almost 20% of people in the UK have a disability or impairment, and over half of households have a connection to someone with a disability. Their collective spending power – dubbed the ‘purple pound’ – is calculated to be worth £249bn to the UK economy.
While the day has been supported by online as well as bricks and mortar businesses, perhaps it is the latter who have most to gain by improving accessibility.
Bricks and mortar at its best
Retailers are increasingly seeking new purpose for their shops as they adapt to increasingly digital shopping habits. That means a greater emphasis on factors such as experience, customer service and services.
The direction of travel was evident in new research from retail property organisation Revo, which found 74% of retailers expect to devote more space in-store to activities other than selling in the coming years. That might mean anything from pick-up points to advice. They also expect retailers to take a much more flexible approach to space, sizing up or down as appropriate.
“It would be perverse not to make the most of further ways of building stores’ appeal”
All this is happening as the future of town centres remains a hot topic, and retail park and shopping centre owners ponder shifts into mixed use where they have excess or underused space such as car parks.
When such transformation is going on, ensuring stores and shopping locations are inclusive places does not only stack up intellectually – it would be perverse not to make the most of further ways of building their appeal.
The pace of technological innovation has catered for shoppers in new ways – who would have seriously imagined shopping by voice using devices such as Amazon’s Echo just a few years ago. It is a boon for consumers generally and, no doubt, particularly useful for people who are blind or partially sighted.
Retailers with stores should not fall behind the curve when it comes to catering for shoppers in new ways. The blend of convenience and enjoyable or valued experience is where bricks and mortar can show itself at its best.
Purple Tuesday may prove a blessing not only for disabled people but for consumers in general, as a stimulus to new thinking about the possibilities of the store.