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Accessibility: Delivering personal experiences that count

Andy Lang, O2’s public sector support manager, talks about the steps we are taking to make our stores inclusive and accessible to all.

As a retailer with over 450 stores, I am always excited when I see examples of retailers offering individual, tailored and personal shopping experiences to their customers. It’s a trend that is set to continue. At O2, we have been working with a number of partners to take advantage of assistive technology to make the O2 experience inclusive for all.

How consumers value authenticity and sustainability

Back in January, Deloitte posed the question What next for retail? and published their predictions on what they see as some of the key retail trends for 2018. It was interesting to note their focus on values, and how brand authenticity and sustainability are becoming increasingly important in retail. Consumers want to associate themselves with brands that represent their views, beliefs and values, and are becoming increasingly intolerant of brands that are not transparent, or that fail to follow through on their promises.

Deloitte is not alone in this view. At the launch of The Inclusive Economy Partnership last autumn (a programme that brings together business, civil society and government to help address major societal challenges facing those on low to middle incomes), O2’s CEO, Mark Evans, said:

We believe that ‘doing good’ is good business, and we are committed to playing our part in creating a fairer and more sustainable world.”

This is why O2 is a proud founder member of The Inclusive Economy Partnership, just one example of our ongoing work to make a positive difference and achieve our ambition of helping 20 million people live better with technology by 2020.

At O2 we believe that improvements in retail accessibility are coming from two growth areas:

  1. Technology

We are seeing how advances in technology, particularly in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), are leading to new products and devices that make a real difference to people with accessibility needs. A few weeks ago we teamed up with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and software developer RealThing Australia to launch In Your Pocket, an intelligent mobile device specifically designed for people who are blind, or who have reduced vision. As well as a fully functional Smartphone, In Your Pocket gives those affected by sight loss access to daily newspapers, popular magazines, audiobooks and podcasts.

  1. Education and Training

Over the last year, we have been working with the RNIB to adapt and improve our existing customer excellence framework to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to deliver personal and inclusive retail experiences. During this process I have been fascinated to see the enormous impact that seemingly small and insignificant changes make to the service we provide to customers with specific needs. For example, our O2 Gurus in store now dedicate more time getting to know the specific accessibility features preloaded (yet often hidden away) onto each new Smartphone, who those features are designed for, and how they can help.

Knowledge is important, but so is the language we use and the face to face support that we offer. For example, rather than leave a customer to work out for themselves which device is likely to best suit their needs, we might ask something like:

“Would it be helpful if I described some of the integrated accessibility features built into this device?”

Rather than “It has special features for the disabled” we might say “It has a number of features incorporated that make it easier to use. Would you like me to demonstrate some of them to you?”

Robin Spinks, Principle Digital Accessibility Strategy Manager at the RNIB, was clear about what they’ve set out to deliver:

“Each of these simple changes helps to create a culture of positive and inclusive communication across all our channels. We want to deliver an experience that people will go away, talk about and share.”

It’s about more than CSR

It is important to recognise that inclusiveness in retail is not just a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issue. With 11 million people registered with a disability in the UK in 2018, there is also a substantial opportunity for retailers to reach a broader and under-served demographic. In fact, if you are not already looking at ways to make your retail experience more accessible then I think you are almost certainly missing out.

With the retail landscape changing, and with retailers looking for ever more innovative ways to increase footfall, it is time for all of us in the sector to make our offering more relevant to a wider demographic irrespective of circumstances.

 

What are you doing to make retail easier and more inclusive for you customers? As O2’s public sector account manager, I collaborate with O2’s biggest charity customers to understand strategy and shared goals, developing modern business partnerships. You can contact me via LinkedIn.



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