Fostering acceptance, awareness and inclusion in retail

Fostering acceptance, awareness and inclusion in retail

Retail - Workplace October 2019

Fostering acceptance awareness and inclusion in retail

With almost one in four New Zealanders identifying as disabled in the 2013 Census figures, retailers are being challenged to create more user-friendly shopping environments to cater for this demographic.

Acceptance, awareness and inclusion are key buzz words and businesses are being urged to be more mindful of the diverse needs of their equally-diverse client base.

On a recent episode of New Zealand consumer programme Fair Go, the practice of supermarket shelf-stocking during opening hours was called out by a wheelchair-bound customer.

With compromised mobility, navigating the supermarket aisles – even in off-peak hours when there are not many other shoppers about – had become a nightmare, with cartons strewn across the floor blocking access to shelves and large cage trolleys stacked high with stock making wheelchair manoeuvrability a challenge.

Obstacles like this are just one thing that retailers are being asked to consider to improve the shopping environment for a broad range of consumers.

Bright lights and loud music can also be confronting – particularly to those on the autism spectrum.

The creation of sensory-friendly environments is a way that retailers can better cater to families and individuals where a sense of overwhelm and distress can be triggered by over-stimulating surroundings.

Countdown supermarkets has just announced that it will offer low-sensory quiet hours in its stores nationwide, having trialled the concept in several of its outlets.

The quiet hours have been developed with the support of Autism New Zealand and will see fluorescent strip lighting dimmed, music and in-store announcements turned off, and the use of any noisy or movement-limiting machinery reduced.

These measures are also likely to be popular with shoppers with other neurological or physical disabilities, along with elderly customers who find the usual supermarket environment too full-on.

In the UK, there is estimated to be around 700,000 autistic people. Their shopping needs – along with those of their three million family members and carers – are increasingly being taken into account.

The National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour encourages all stores, businesses and shopping centres across the UK to hold Autism Hours during the second week of October. Since the charity launched the campaign in 2017, 16,000 shops and businesses have joined the campaign and more than 38,000 autism-friendly hours have taken place – totalling 1,583 days or 4.3 years.

The education of staff around the challenges that people with autism experience is also helping raise awareness.

Meanwhile, UK retailers Sainsbury’s and Argos have introduced sunflower lanyards in all stores to help improve the shopping experience for customers who require additional support such as those with hidden disabilities like dementia, anxiety, autism and visual or hearing impairment.

The wearing or carrying of a sunflower lanyard signals to staff that the customer may require extra help in finding goods, or need more time at the checkout.

To create a more accessible and inclusive environment, Israeli supermarket chain Shufersal has introduced initiatives to assist visually-impaired and blind shoppers with an in-store app called RightHear.

The app provides real-time audio describing where the shopper is in the store, working via Bluetooth beacons that connect to the app.

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