The Purple Pound: Why it Should Matter to your Business

Making your commercial premises accessible to everyone, including disabled people, is vital not only by law, but also to ensure you don’t miss out on attracting more customers.

Accommodating people who use wheelchairs in your customer base can bring financial rewards that outweigh the costs of modernising your premises!

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What is the purple pound?

The latest data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows there are around 16 million people with a disability in the UK. This represents 24% of the population – an increase of 18% since 2003. Part of the reason is people are living longer, so more older people who are less mobile need wheelchair access.

The DWP’s Family Resources Survey reported 58% of people aged 80 and above had some kind of disability. This represents a massive customer demographic, with a combined spending power estimated to be £274 billion a year.

Known as the purple pound, money spent by disabled consumers can account for almost one-quarter of your business’s annual income if you cater for their needs. No business can afford to miss out on this huge demographic, emphasising the importance of good accessibility for older and disabled people.

The Office for National Statistics revealed 13% of disabled people reported feeling lonely, partly due to the fact they were unable to get out and go to places as much as they would like. As a businessperson, you must be open to adapting your premises to ensure wheelchair users always feel welcome.


Wheelchair access regulations UK

Improving disabled access to your retail store or commercial premises should be a priority. By law, shops, commercial premises and other public buildings must be accessible for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010.

Retailers must do their bit to contribute to a fairer and more equal society by providing everyone with access. Creating a welcoming and easily accessible shopfront is more than following the letter of the law: it’s welcoming the purple pound sector who have billions of pounds of disposable income.


How does disabled access impact businesses?

After almost 30 years since the launch of legislation to support disabled people’s access rights, you would think that in 2024, every business would have done their best to accommodate everyone. Sadly, research suggests this isn’t the case.

A survey of disabled shoppers revealed 40% said they couldn’t visit local high street shops because access problems created insurmountable barriers.

Having a bad experience with a store or other commercial business, such as a restaurant, estate agent, public house, cafe or shopping mall, would deter 70% of disabled customers from going again, as they felt this demonstrated poor customer service.

According to the disabled people’s support charity, Scope, 50% of disabled shoppers who have suffered problems buying items from a retailer have given up and not bothered. The case for accommodating disabled customers is a strong one, says Scope, following its partnership with Barclays Access and Open Inclusion to investigate the issues.

Almost half (48%) of disabled people who have had access issues with any businesses have taken their custom elsewhere. Others have had to enlist another person’s help to complete their shopping – something they are loathe to do, as it puts their independence into question.


How can businesses improve disabled access?

Owners of commercial properties and retail premises should do their research and find out how the disabled community feels about their brand. Conducting simple market research either on your website, via email, through social media or by using a physical leaflet drop provides a valuable insight into whether you’ve got it right.

Study and digest the results and if your business has received negative feedback, do something about it. Fulfilling legal requirements and social responsibility towards the disabled community need not cost the earth.

One simple way of encouraging disabled customers to spend money with your brand is to improve access, such as replacing steps at the entrance with a ramp and installing an automatic door. If you own large business premises with separate entrances to different departments, install internal automatic doors as well, including disabled access to toilet facilities.

An automatic door benefits wheelchair users, elderly or frail customers, anyone with a disability and adults with young children and pushchairs, as the automation means they don’t have to haul open a heavy manual door, ask someone for help, or struggle to manoeuvre their wheelchair through a narrow gap.

Automatic doors operate effortlessly and quietly, with sensors alerting them to a customer arriving or leaving and opening the door without anyone having to touch it. Easy to navigate for people of all physical and mental abilities, they can often fit into your existing door space, so it may not be necessary to fund a major refurbishment.

Even better, they offer longevity once fitted and can survive for many years with regular maintenance, so the initial outlay should be repaid by the extra customers who will be able to access your premises.