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  • Sam

Revolutionizing Retail: A Blueprint for an Inclusive Shopping Experience

This burning question for my blog as we approach Purple Tuesday is just how could the disabled customer experience be improved? A number of people have told me that whilst they would like to see certain new things introduced, they would also like to see the reintroduction of some things that were once upon a time very successful as well.

One simple thing that, when you think about it, could make a lot of sense, is making aisles wider in shops. This isn’t just great for disabled people, particularly those who use a wheelchair to get around or prefer to have space around them when they shop, it would also allow two people to be down an aisle at the same time, rather than have a single-file logjam of people waiting to get what they want It also makes sense in a world in which Covid and other potentially dangerous infections remain prevalent. If you think about a road, especially a dual carriageway, you’ve got two vehicles able to move freely along. If shops were designed so that you could have two people, with one potentially being in a wheelchair or mobility scooter, and one who may be able-bodied, this would make the shopping experience more inclusive and much more pleasant for all of us.

Whilst the aisles in shops could be made bigger, allowing a better flow of customers, there is also another concept, which was once quite revolutionary, which hasn’t been advertised as much recently. This particular concept, which is especially helpful for customers with Autism or sensory processing challenges is Autism friendly hours. They should become compulsory. The businesses themselves would just have to research the times in their shops where the footfall was naturally lesser so that this could be advertised as a “Sensory Sensitive Shopping Hour”, or something along those lines. I have spoken to a number of people with Autism, who have mentioned that they wouldn’t know if the “Autism Friendly Hours” in shops were still a thing. Advertisement and promotion of this is paramount to the success of the idea and would be instrumental in improving access for shoppers with Autism or other sensory processing challenges or those who simply prefer to shop in a quieter environment.

Another point shared with me from the neurodivergent communities of which I am part was that supermarkets are constructed in a very “knotty” way. Allow me to explain. Someone could have a list of items they have on their weekly shopping list- and naturally plan it so that cupboard items are first, and fruit, veg, refrigerated and frozen goods are last. But they would be going around in circles even trying to get their items in some kind of order. Someone even suggested that the apps of supermarkets or shops draw a map of the most efficient route to get the things you are looking for, which I think would be a great idea. The vast majority of the time, people don’t want to be spending ages in a shop. They just want to get the things they need, and be gone! For some people, going to the shops is their idea of escapism- but this is not the scenario for every customer, and this should be taken into account. In fact, one person said to me, that if a supermarket was constructed where the things that are kept for the longest time are at one end of the supermarket, alongside things like magazines, clothing and birthday cards, and then at the other end they had the refrigerated and frozen goods, this would stop the chaos. This would be almost certain, I would think because fewer people who like to leave frozen goods to the end would have less need to go backwards and forwards.

Something else people have flagged up is when there are particularly loud tannoys in supermarkets or shops. This has contributed to a number of customers off choosing to continue their shopping as they feel overwhelmed with the noise of these as well as music playing in the background. An idea that I think would be great in this regard, is having all the staff members in shops with headsets on, so that tannoys are a thing of the past. If they want to call a specific colleague, they could radio to them, rather than the whole shop floor potentially being startled when all of a sudden there is a big voice reverberating around the place. I also believe that having just some basic headphones or something along those lines for people who experience sensory overload would make for a more pleasurable experience. Put it this way- I have been to places where they have sensory things available for people who would like them. So if these lesser-known places can do this, why couldn’t huge organisations around the country? I often think it is the smaller organisations who set the precedent for the bigger organisations. But surely the revolution in an inclusive shopping experience should be led by those organisations who have more resources available in order to lead this change?

One thing that is imperative, is for any organisation, big or small, to be conducting consultations with their customers. Once this has been done, then we will start to see the lasting impact that substantial changes would have in terms of making the entire experience as a customer, a pleasure for all, not just those with a disability or neurodivergent condition. And I am all for that!

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