How the ‘customer experience’ can improve inclusivity in-store

Next month, a number of British retailers including Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Barclays and Argos will be coming together in aid of ‘Purple Tuesday’ – the first accessible shopping day in the UK.

Co-ordinated by the disability organisation Purple and endorsed by the government, Purple Tuesday is all about promoting a more inclusive retail experience. It has been designed to recognise the needs of disabled customers, and follows in the footsteps of similar initiatives such as Morrisons’ Quieter Hour, which was introduced this summer to help autistic shoppers who might struggle with music and noise.

86% of consumers globally expect brands to take a stand on social issues, and inclusivity is a crucial one. It’s hardly surprising therefore that creating an in-store environment that is suited to different shopper needs is becoming an increasingly important area for a number of retailers, with many soliciting support from charities to create a more welcoming in-store environment. On the other end of the inclusivity spectrum, we’ve also seen interesting moves from retailers like H&M and more recently Walmart in the US to address ‘size inclusivity’, with the latter announcing plans to acquire Eloquii, the plus-size women’s fashion brand.

So, what are the different areas retailers need to be mindful of to ensure they are being inclusive across the board?

Multi-sensory experiences

While for many, experiences that engage the senses can make the in-store environment more appealing, this isn’t the reality for every shopper. Those with disabilities affecting sight and hearing can find the in-store environment overwhelming, which is why initiatives like Purple Tuesday are so important – both in raising awareness of the issue, but also in providing disabled shoppers with a more accessible experience. Crucially, though, disability should not be seen as a one-day event, and it will be interesting to see how these retailers commit to improving the experience for their disabled customers in the long term.

One example of this in practice is Morrisons, who earlier this summer took an important step by implementing a ‘Quieter Hour’ every Saturday between 9 – 10am. The new initiative was created with the support of the National Autistic Society, with Morrisons dimming the lights, turning off music, and reducing the movement of trolleys and baskets during this period to make the environment more welcoming for this specific audience. This is a great example of a retailer personalising the in-store experience to meet the needs of a specific group of people and follows similar quiet hour initiatives from Asda and John Lewis.

Merchandising products in the right way

Another area of inclusivity that retailers have been addressing recently is product; whether that’s H&M making its women’s clothing range larger, Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller’s designing a packaging easier for gamers with limited mobility to open or M&S creating a clothing range for disabled children. ASOS has also been making bold strides in this area by using Augmented Reality to show photos of different size models wearing the same clothing to help consumers visualise how a garment would look on their own body shape. The fashion e-tailer has also recently backed fashion brand ‘Collusion’ for the launch of its gender neutral offering.

However, while tailoring products to different audiences is a significant step, merchandising them in-store is just as important. With this in mind, retailers should consider how digital screens and signage can be used to complement and even enhance in-store merchandising. Interactive screens can be a great channel to promote inclusivity in a more engaging and time-sensitive way; whether that’s showcasing different shapes and sizes of models wearing a product range or offering a more diverse picture of beauty. Not only does this help shoppers connect with the brand in a more personal way, but it’s also a much more flexible way of interacting with shoppers.

Overall, it’s clear that promoting greater inclusivity in-store could be at the same time a necessary social move and an n untapped opportunity for a number of retailers; estimates already put the collective spending power of disabled people and those with other conditions, and their families, at £249bn.

While Purple Tuesday is a great step forward for retailers hoping to make the customer experience more accessible for disabled customers, it’s clear that inclusivity is a much broader issue that permeates all aspects of retail. Ultimately, it comes to understanding and listening to your customers across all channels, designing improvements to the  customer experience, piloting them and scaling those which resonate – from both a sensory, environmental and merchandising perspective.

Tony Rhodes is the UK commercial director at Mood Media. The group offers experiential design and marketing solutions, helping brands connect with their customers by providing music, digital signage, scent, integrated audio visual, and interactive mobile marketing solutions that help to improve customer experience.

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