Retailers should learn from shopping centres to be inclusive; Retailers and property managers must continue to work together closely to raise the standard of inclusivity across the sector, for the benefit of everyone

Posted by Retail Sector on 10th May 2019

Shopping centres increasingly act as hubs pulling local communities together and are becoming an essential cornerstone of everyday life. As society quite rightly becomes more inclusive, shopping centres must lead the way in their own communities by ensuring that every individual can benefit from the facilities equally.

One in five people in the UK has a form of disability, either visible or non-visible. However an estimated £249bn – dubbed the ‘Purple Pound’ – in potential spending power of customers with disabilities is lost every year. There is a clear lack of balance here, and massive potential for brands and retailers to benefit significantly from incorporating greater inclusivity measures so they can open their doors to these ‘lost’ customers. Many retailers are already directing their focus towards the importance of driving greater inclusivity and accessibility and how it affects their performance. However, many others simply do not know where to start. This is where shopping centre property managers can lead by example and support retailers in introducing initiatives to make shopping more accessible and comfortable for all.  

It is imperative that retailers break down the barriers that have so far prevented entire sections of communities from enjoying retail spaces. It is also a win-win solution through improving inclusivity, centres will benefit from increased footfall and enhanced commercial performance, which filters through to the individual retailers. The time has never been more fitting, given that the retail sector is currently fixated on finding ways to encourage footfall and ensure the survival of shopping centres – and the industry as a whole.

The nature of retail property management has evolved significantly, moving away from looking after the bricks and mortar side of a shopping centre and turning towards prioritising meaningful community engagement.

For example Ellandi, a retail investor who manages a portfolio of shopping centres nationwide, recently made specific changes to make its centres ‘Autism Friendly’. Recently, it achieved this accreditation from the National Autism Society (NAS) at 11 centres, and were further commended for the Howgate Centre, which is the first shopping centre in Scotland to be both autism friendly and to offer sensory shopping experiences. In fact, it has been hailed by the Scottish Parliament as being a stand-out example of community engagement. None of these measures would have been possible without the enthusiastic cooperation of retailers at the centres, who have now also seen the considerable benefits to their own returns through increased footfall and spend.

Most importantly of all, shopping centres have been able to demonstrate that just a few relatively easy yet thoughtful changes can fundamentally improve the shopping experience for a large group in society. This, in turn, helps retailers to directly engage with their customers and build stronger relationships and loyalty, as customers can see that they are being listened to and considered. Building strong relationships between centre management and retailers is key to encouraging take up of these initiatives and demonstrating clearly how the benefits are passed on to customers.

In the wider industry, there have been marked signs of improvement, and as a result the concept of inclusivity is becoming better understood among both large and small retailers. Last year, shopping and retail centres across the UK joined together for ‘Purple Tuesday’, the country’s first day dedicated to accessible shopping. Widely praised, this event highlighted the tremendous opportunity for the retail sector to make a positive and tangible contribution to the quality of life of the people it serves and upon whom its future depends.

This means focusing on the needs of those who may have felt unable to enjoy shopping in their local areas before. The NAS estimates that there are around 700,000 people with autism in the UK – of these, 80% have reported feeling isolated in their surroundings, while a substantial 64% avoid shopping entirely. In fact, many people with autism have seen their condition misunderstood, further adding to a feeling of isolation – 28% have been asked to leave a public space for reasons related to their autism. This only strengthens the argument that shopping centres and every retailer within them has a combined inherent duty to turn this situation around and work on cultivating a welcoming environment. Retailers and property managers must continue to work together closely to raise the standard of inclusivity across the sector, for the benefit of everyone.    

With thanks to Vicky Cotton – sustainability and wellbeing director, Workman LLP


PICTURE DETAILS:  The Howgate Shopping Centre was presented with our autism-friendly award by Nick Ward, Director of The National Autistic Society Scotland. Receiving the award was the Howgate General Manager, Suzanne Arkinson and Marketing Manager, Margaret Foy. For further information please contact: Stephanie Stewart | Media and Campaigns Officer (part time – Monday to Wednesday) The National Autistic Society Scotland T: 0141 221 8090 Picture by John Young / All images © All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.


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