Why Inclusion Must Matter to Businesses
There are around 13 million people who are disabled in the United Kingdom, and government figures indicate this demographic is worth over £249 billion a year in terms of spending power (figures from 2014). Statistics from the charity Scope indicate that 45% of adults in retirement age are disabled and, given the aging trend of the UK population, this translates to a significant and increasing number of potential disabled shoppers.
It is critical for any company to look at demographics and buying behaviour to understand and predict consumer preferences and demand. Today’s retailers need to consider shopper demographics beyond nationality and gender segments. Every shopper has a specific need that drives where they shop and what they buy. And consumers who are disabled are no exception—they have their own unique preferences and needs which should be addressed with personalised attention from manufacturers and retailers.
The Reality of Accessibility Needs
There are several types of disability that can be distinguished as illustrated below:
There’s a common misconception that improving access is about expensive physical modifications to venues and equipment and is seen as being primarily for wheelchair users and the mobility impaired. While physical access plays a crucial role in making buildings accessible, there is much more to providing a truly inclusive venue.
The image above shows that there are other conditions that have a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities which might not be best addressed by physical alterations to the venue. Most might not be initially apparent to customer service teams and could be overlooked without further knowledge and training. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of disabled people have a hidden disability which is not apparent unless the person makes the information known. Even if it’s not possible to make your venue fully physically accessible, you can still make a difference to shoppers’ experience by greeting the person at the entrance, providing useful information about your facilities and services and offering some reasonable assistance.
Accessing an increasing market
Tapping into the disabled shopper market can make a big difference to the bottom line of any retailer. A positive shopping experience will not only turn a person into a loyal customer but it will also lead them to encourage their friends, family, and carers to also visit the venue. A welcoming attitude towards disabled shoppers will significantly increase a brand’s reputation and is the foundation to support this growing customer segment. The provision of services in this area can be seen as a great differentiator and early movers will ensure that they stand out as exemplars of best practice.
A lot of analogies can be drawn from inclusive design principles in product design. The approach recognises that the common denominator of people is that they are all different and aims to create products or services that can be experienced by as many people as reasonably possible. It moves away from the one-size fits all approach which might lead to cost savings at the beginning but comes with significant risks, e.g. bad press, loss of reputation and customers, lack of disability confident staff.
Applying the concepts of inclusive design to customer service is a far more sustainable approach as it allows businesses to accommodate the "customer of the future" in our aging population.
Designing your venue and customer service in a way to include everyone can have dramatic psychological benefits for customers with specific needs. The knowledge that it is possible to shop in a safe and relaxed environment where any needs are understood and addressed can reduce or even remove the anxiety associated with visiting new environments. As a result, you will have happier and more loyal customers.
Appropriate training and regular refreshers can also improve the experience of your staff. They will feel much more confident to interact with disabled customers and provide the best possible customer service.
With the disabled customer segment growing consistently every year, it is a crucial market for businesses to cater for. Creating an inclusive customer experience which involves both physical accessibility and disability-confident customer service staff will lead to fundamental societal changes which with both general publicity and word of mouth through social media will ultimately attract more customers.