Modern Retail

Retail Sector Backs Purple Tuesday and Embraces Customer Service Improvements

Purple Tuesday

Household names including Sainsbury’s, M&S and Blakemore Retail are joining hundreds of other retailers today (12 November), to improve the customer experience for disabled people by supporting Purple Tuesday

Multiple shopping centres, including Bluewater and Intu, are also participating. Westfield is taking Purple Tuesday international with shopping centres in Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland making commitments for better customer service for disabled people. 

New research published for Purple Tuesday reveals that poor customer service and a lack of staff understanding are among the key barriers preventing disabled consumers from purchasing goods and services. The research has prompted calls for businesses and organisations to rethink how they target disabled consumers and their families, whose spending power – the so-called Purple Pound – is estimated to be £249 billion every year.

More than 2,000 businesses, organisations and stores from a range of sectors have made more than 3,500 pledges to make long-term changes as part of Purple Tuesday on 12 November. This includes:

  • Sainsbury’s and Argos, who have announced a new trial of a weekly ‘Sunflower Hour’ in 30 stores, which involves creating a calmer environment by reducing background noise and sensory overload that launches on Purple Tuesday. The trial gives customers the option to pick up a sunflower lanyard which has been purposely designed to act as a discreet sign for store colleagues to recognise if they may need to provide a customer with additional support. Sainsbury’s was the first retailer to trial this initiative in 2018.
  • Microsoft Store, which has committed to educating not only the community but retail businesses on how to create accessible retail experiences, work environments and improving the lives of customers and employees living with disabilities.
  • M&S, which is committed to being the U.K.’s most accessible retailer and has introduced a number of improvements to its stores and website over the past few years – including becoming the first retailer to introduce Sunflower Lanyards into all stores for those with hidden disabilities Earlier this month M&S ran a colleague campaign “Making Every Day Accessible” introducing a number of resources for colleagues including a top tips for being disability confident video, a guide on how to run sensory friendly shopping hours and a new ‘hard of hearing’ uniform.
  • Blakemore Retail, which is providing training for 4300 staff and making training available to their 700 independent SPAR Retailers

Tim Fallowfield, Board Sponsor for Disability Carers and Age at Sainsbury’s and Argos, comments: 

“We’re proud to show our continued support to Purple Tuesday and believe all our customers should feel confident when shopping all year round. Not all disabilities are visible so by taking steps such as introducing a weekly Sunflower Hour, we hope to provide an enhanced experience and reassurance for our customers.”

John Carter, Senior Store Manager of the flagship Microsoft Store in London, said:

“Technology is a tool for everyone and our products and services are designed for people of all abilities. We are supporting Purple Tuesday’s call to improve the customer experience for disabled people, by inviting retailers to learn how to create accessible experiences and cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplace for customers and employees.  We will also be running free customer workshops on our accessibility tools and features. From supporting students living with dyslexia to read with confidence, to helping people with limited mobility to write with their voice, we’re calling for everyone to learn how accessibility tools can empower you to achieve more in your life.” 

Zoe Mountford, Lead Sustainability Manger at Marks & Spencer, said

We’re committed to making M&S the UK’s most accessible retailer, whether customers are shopping online or in-store. Earlier this year we became the first retailer to introduce sunflower lanyards for customers with hidden disabilities into all of our stores, this came one year after we launched daywear for children with disabilities and two years after we published AccessAble Guides. We know that the very best thing we can do is give great service and we work hard to make sure all our 80,000 colleagues feel disability confident. 

“Purple Tuesday is a great opportunity to remind our stores of all the great resources we have introduced over the past year such as our colleague guide on how to support customers who are hard of hearing and our top tips video on how to be confident serving customer with disabilities.” 

75% of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability1. Research shows that most complaints from disabled people relate to experiences within the business/organisation premises, with disabled people more likely to spend money with organisations if they improve2:

  • staff understanding about different disabilities (56%)
  • the overall customer experience for disabled people (41%)
  • store/shop/location accessibility (41%)
  • website accessibility (16%)

More than 1 in 3 disabled people (34%) said poor customer service prevented them from making a purchase, while 33% blamed a lack of understanding from staff about their needs. Some disabled respondents said improvements should include ‘being treated the same as anyone else’ and having ‘knowledgeable staff’. 

The research has led Purple Tuesday to call on organisations to focus on straightforward, low-cost solutions to improve the customer experience for disabled people – changes that go beyond the front door. Of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, 80% have a hidden impairment, meaning improvements and enhancements are needed to improve access for disabled people, beyond having a ramp installed to help enter a site.

Mike Adams OBE, Chief Executive of Purple, said:

“Meeting the needs of disabled customers makes commercial sense for organisations of all sizes, from all sectors, but our message to organisations is: you don’t have to spend big budgets to make lasting change. That’s why we’re urging organisations to focus on improvements that go ‘beyond the front door’. Introducing staff training and improving website accessibility are low cost changes, but the difference to a company’s bottom line – as well as to a disabled consumer’s personal experience – can be significant.

“Purple Tuesday has more than doubled in size this year, with more than 2000 organisations from a variety of sectors making commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled people. These are long-term changes that will have a lasting impact for millions of customers – and improve the commercial opportunities for the organisations involved.”

Helen Honstvet, Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said: 

“It’s great to see so many big names supporting Purple Tuesday and trying to make shopping more inclusive and accessible. We recognise that many retailers have come a long way, but we still hear all too often from people with sight loss who face persistent and unnecessary difficulties when shopping. 

“When somewhere like a shop or restaurant can’t or won’t accommodate someone with sight loss, that’s not only potentially illegal but it can also be a huge blow to that person’s feelings of acceptance in society and willingness to go out independently.” 

The purple pound is worth £249 billion and is rising by an average of 14% per annum, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market. 3 Purple Tuesday’s research shows that more than 80% of disabled people say businesses could do more to be accessible and encourage them to spend money.

Organisations can contact Purple for advice on how they can improve their approach to disabled consumers. Example changes include: 

  • Conducting an online audit of your website to improve accessibility
  • Training staff to know and understand how to communicate effectively with disabled customers
  • Getting front line staff to learn basic British Sign Langue skills to communicate with those customers from the deaf community
  • Conducting an on-site audit to ensure the physical space is suitable for every customer to get around the area easily
  • Improving wayfair signage around the facility
  • Introducing quiet hours on a regular basis to help people who struggle with music, tannoys and noise.

For more information on Purple Tuesday, please visit www.PurpleTuesday.org.uk.

Holly Worthington

Holly Worthington

Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail's Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today's ever-changing market.

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