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The Shopper You Need to Know Better

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

The London Marathon is always inspiring. Sitting on a comfortable sofa watching people from all walks of life tackling the 26.2 miles never fails to impress or bring a tear to the eye. Emotions run high, not just because of the sheer physical and mental effort required, but because so many runners come with a hefty back story; a cause that has got them off their sofa and onto the road.

Whilst none of us at Shoppercentric leapt into our running shoes, last year’s London Marathon spurred us to challenge ourselves to refresh our thinking: to make ourselves more inclusive of disability and long-term health conditions in our research. We’ve spent time on this and it’s early days; a key take-out is once you start to look, listen and ask, it’s obvious that this really mustn’t go unexplored (with everyone’s permission of course). Disabilities, whether visible, invisible, mental, physical, genetic, age or illness related, impact on lives in diverse ways. By asking and not shying away from difficult conversations, we’re building a more meaningful and useful model of shopper behaviour, one grounded in real life, not just the idealised lives we like to present to each other.

The Social Model of Disability (a way of viewing the world developed by disabled people and used by Scope) says people are disabled by societal barriers, not by their impairment or difference. These barriers can be physical or attitudinal; either way, we need to know what they are, and do our bit as shopper experts to find how products and services can be designed better. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also makes commercial sense. Improving the offer for a disabled shopper will improve the offer for ANY shopper, in turn growing the potential market size.

Let’s start with some basic facts:

(Source: Family Resources Survey: 2020 – 2021) / (Source: Scope) / (Source: Purple Tuesday, a global social movement working to improve the customer experience for disabled people).

With all this in mind, as part of our Shoppercentric Window On series we have started to detail how living with a disability or long-term health condition impacts on grocery shopping.

Life feels different if you’re disabled or struggling with your mental or physical health. Although everyone worries about the same things, in the same order, those with mental health issues, unsurprisingly, tend to be the most anxious:

This heavier mental load can make daily tasks - including grocery shopping – so much more stressful.

More than twice as many of our disabled respondents get very anxious about grocery shopping compared with the non-disabled (21% vs 9%).

Our job as researchers is to understand why, and how the experience can be improved.

Online shopping is a great work-around when stores feel too stressful to visit: a greater proportion of disabled shoppers (1/3) do indeed adopt this approach compared with non-disabled shoppers (1/4). Online shopping confers greater control of parts of the process to the shopper. Assuming web-sites are accessible, people can build shopping lists over time when they feel best able to do so, they can use saved lists to simplify the process and for those that need it, there are some great digital access tools available.

This still leaves 2 in 3 shoppers going into store. So why don’t more disabled shoppers go online? Conferred control only stretches so far. We still need to get the groceries from the front door into cupboards and fridges, and this final stage isn’t always easy or predictable. Delivery personnel and slots vary, as may an individual’s ability to manage this task from day to day. Nor can everyone afford the delivery price or reach the minimum basket size needed (remember – disabled shoppers already have higher living costs).

In-store shopping is not going away just yet and so needs to work for everyone, everywhere, in every format. Quick, frequent visits to smaller local stores can be more manageable than large weekly shops in superstores. It’s an opportunity for the convenience sector to shine, and ensure they have disability confident staff and a store space accessible to all.

Across the industry, exciting trials are taking place to improve accessibility. In September 2021, Asda integrated selected stores into the GoodMaps App to help shoppers navigate the shop and similarly, manufacturers such as Kellogg’s and Pantene have been adopting Navi Lens on-pack codes (these help guide shoppers to desired products in-store and then communicate key product information). Outside the grocery industry, Spec Savers’ latest advertisement raises awareness of the NHS funded home eye-test available to those who can’t leave their home unaccompanied.

But these are the big-ticket items.

Quiet hours are a nod in the right direction for those seeking a calmer shopping experience. Dimmed lighting, fewer announcements and no background music all help. Great if you can get to store for these time-slots. LEGOLAND Windsor has introduced a fantastic Sensory Room for neurodiverse guests needing a quiet moment away from the excitement of the rest of the park. Again, a great step forward. An equally important aspect of all these changes is not just what they offer to people using them, but the fact that they are visible. Like the Sunflower lanyard, visible initiatives such as these continue the conversation that different people need different experiences, and that is normal.

Everyday improvements in shopping are an even easier place to start and just as effective. Ahead of any of these great initiatives disabled shoppers, just like any other shopper, simply want their trip to routinely be successful. When it goes wrong it is more frustrating due to the level of physical, mental and time investment required to complete these trips. Make sure the right products are in stock, make sure the layout is simple, show the prices – clearly. If these aren’t in place, then the stress of shopping becomes greater, especially if it means having to visit other stores or repeat the trip.

It's also clear how to really win with disabled shoppers: improved provision of additional customer facilities; good lighting, suitable toilet facilities, the right trolleys and staff that can help. And don’t forget the joys of Scan and Go; this practically removes one of the most physically and mentally challenging stages of the shopping journey – the checkout.

So what’s next? We are learning. We now purposively include and segment respondents with disabilities and long-term health conditions in our research, with client’s permission. We keep asking, we keep listening and we go deeper with a more qualitative approach to build our understanding.

Here at Touchstone Shoppercentric, we will be monitoring how this evolves alongside other interesting shopper and consumer behaviour.

Expert in Shopper – Consumer - FMCG - Leisure and Culture

If you’d like to work with us on this, then get in touch -

Look out for our WindowOn Disability snapshots coming soon.

And if nothing else take a look at Purple Tuesday on 22nd November 2022

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