Why retailers risk losing £249bn by ignoring disabled consumers

Unless they are prepared to take accessibility and inclusivity seriously, brands and retailers could lose out on billions of pounds by ignoring the spending power of disabled customers.

Disabled consumers

UK retailers are at risk of losing £249bn a year by ignoring consumers with a disability according to the UK Government’s estimate, leading panellists at the Festival of Marketing yesterday (4 October) to debate what more retailers, brands and advertisers could do to appeal to disabled people. Over 52% of people globally are affected by disability.

Rick Williams, author of a research report called ‘The Click Away Pound’, asked brands to start by addressing the accessibility of the online experience. 

According to his study, 6.1 million UK shoppers – with a combined spending power of £16.5bn – have access issues when they shop online. Some 71% of disabled consumers also report clicking away from a website because they found it difficult to use, costing brands in excess of £11.75bn.

The report also found that 82% of customers would spend more money if websites were accessible.

“If you go to a web developer and say make this website accessible they will say yes, but they have no idea what they’re doing,” Williams explained.

“Retrofitting is a very expensive way to go. The most effective way is to design a website to be inclusive from the outset. However, no one person in an organisation owns the issue of accessibility, because there are issues with marketing, issues with procurement, etcetera.”

Working on improving the accessibility of services for its 30 million UK customers is a priority for Lloyds Banking Group, explained director of marketing communications Ros King. The bank has, for example, recently teamed up with Alzheimer’s UK to tackle the issue of dementia-friendly banking.

“We have 30 million customers, so across that breadth they have every disability you could possibly imagine and we need to make sure that our products and services are inclusive and open to them,” said King. 

She cited Lloyds’ ‘Reflecting Modern Britain’ report, published in December, which audited the inclusion and diversity efforts of the UK’s top 20 highest-spending advertisers. The research found that despite 20% of the British population being registered disabled, less than 1% of advertising features disabled people.

READ MORE: Just 19% of people in ads are from minority groups, new research finds

Of the 2,000 people questioned as part of the survey, every sub-group said they feel better about brands that try to be inclusive.

“So basically there is a great opportunity out there. They want us to be inclusive, they want us to feature people from all walks of life to reflect modern Britain,” King added.

“From a marketing point of view it’s tough. Planning is absolutely crucial, getting in there and strategically thinking about [diversity] from the very beginning. It’s not just a casting choice, one of the big learnings from our piece of work is that if you really want to alienate [disabled] people then write an ad and shove them in at the casting stage.”

CMO of Omnicom UK Sam Philips agreed that agencies are not employing enough disabled people. This is crucial, said Philips, as statistics show 86% of adults with Down’s syndrome – a condition her eldest son has – struggle to find full time work.

“I want people to feel, I want people to understand, that different is not worse,” she added. “There is a real Britain out there that is not reflected in [the advertising industry’s] output at the moment.”