Reaching out to retail
“This is production…All good…Handing over to sound…Hearing you loud and clear.” Thump, thump - the sound of my heart beating a lot faster. “We will be with you after the commercial break...”
Then: “Welcome back to Sky News and we are now joined by Mike Adams, Chief Executive of Purple…”
I am recounting my first ever experience of a live television interview - from my kitchen using Facetime, with my iPad propped up by the Christmas present wooden box that had so far escaped being put back into the garage.
I was being asked to comment on the campaign Changing Places, which is driving awareness of the need to have appropriate changing facilities for disabled people in public places.
An increasing number of facilities are starting to emerge across the country in public places, including shopping centres. Some of the bigger brands in retail and hospitality have already adapted their facilities, or made a public pledge to do so. As my mum so succinctly put it: I would not go shopping if I knew I couldn’t go to the toilet.
Changing Places fits very well with the work we are doing at Purple to promote disability as a leadership issue in the retail sector. Help Me Spend My Money (www.helpmespendmymoney.com) is our call to action to promote the commercial opportunities that flow from disabled consumers. The Purple Pound (the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families) represents £249 billion in value to the UK economy.
However, we know that very few businesses have a specific strategy to target this market. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite. Over 75% of disabled people and their families have left a shop due to poor access or customer service. Instead of encouraging people to spend their money, retailers are in danger of driving new (and loyal) customers away. And many of the problems created are pretty straightforward to fix.
We recently conducted some research (which we will publish soon) which found that good customer service was the key factor for disabled people when determining where to spend their money. In asking about shopping behaviours in the run up to Christmas, it was crystal clear disabled people wanted to be treated just like any other customer – welcomed, not ignored, and addressed directly rather than watching on as the sales assistant speaks to their companion.
My own (unscientific) experiment in the run up to Christmas was very similar. Out of the 23 shops I visited, the first contact in 21 of those was with my partner and not me. I truly believe this was not about ignorance but caused by the fear of saying or doing something that might unintentionally offend me. And on the basis of risk or safety it was easier to avoid the conversation.
This is a really big missed opportunity. Purple is committed to supporting retailers and their staff to be on the front foot, not the back. The benefits of this approach to disabled consumers will have a wider ripple effect as retailers start to consider why they don’t employ more disabled people. Good businesses like to reflect their diverse consumer base in their workforce.
Purple is pleased employers such as John Lewis, M&S and Hope&Story are leading on a retail sector campaign to support the retail sector to become Disability Confident, and recruit and retain more disabled people. There are over 4.5 million disabled people out of work. Finding great people in a tight labour market provides a real competitive advantage, and this overlooked talent pool is part of the answer.
The Government’s accredited programme - Disability Confident - provides a framework for building an organisation’s disability capability and capacity – so they can position themselves to better access these skilled individuals.
Over 5,500 organisation have already signed up to Disability Confident, including over 200 retailers. Purple is proud to have provided external validation to a wide range of large, medium and small retailers during their Disability Confident journeys. We hope this campaign results in many more accreditations in the year to come.
To find out more about the Government campaign go to disabilityconfident.campaign.gov.uk
In broadcasting parlance, I will be back after a short commercial break. I am off to Dubai this week to run a masterclass on Disability Confident to UK multinationals and overseas businesses. In my next blog I will let you know how I got on.