Stuart O'Brien, Author at Retail Shopfitting Summit
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Stuart O'Brien

UK retailers back Purple Tuesday to help disabled customers

Sainsbury’s, M&S and Blakemore Retail are among hundreds of retailers who have agreed to improve the customer experience for disabled people by supporting Purple Tuesday (today, November 12th). 

Multiple shopping centres, including Bluewater and Intu, are also participating. Westfield is taking Purple Tuesday international with shopping centres in Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland making commitments for better customer service for disabled people.  

New research published for Purple Tuesday reveals that poor customer service and a lack of staff understanding are among the key barriers preventing disabled consumers from purchasing goods and services.

The research has prompted calls for businesses and organisations to rethink how they target disabled consumers and their families, whose spending power – the so-called Purple Pound – is estimated to be £249 billion every year. 

More than 2,000 businesses, organisations and stores from a range of sectors have made more than 3,500 pledges to make long-term changes as part of Purple Tuesday on 12 November. This includes: 

  • Sainsbury’s and Argos, who have announced a new trial of a weekly ‘Sunflower Hour’ in 30 stores, which involves creating a calmer environment by reducing background noise and sensory overload that launches on Purple Tuesday. The trial gives customers the option to pick up a sunflower lanyard which has been purposely designed to act as a discreet sign for store colleagues to recognise if they may need to provide a customer with additional support. Sainsbury’s was the first retailer to trial this initiative in 2018. 
  • Microsoft Store, which has committed to educating not only the community but retail businesses on how to create accessible retail experiences, work environments and improving the lives of customers and employees living with disabilities. 
  • M&S, which is committed to being the U.K.’s most accessible retailer and has introduced a number of improvements to its stores and website over the past few years – including becoming the first retailer to introduce Sunflower Lanyards into all stores for those with hidden disabilities Earlier this month M&S ran a colleague campaign “Making Every Day Accessible” introducing a number of resources for colleagues including a top tips for being disability confident video, a guide on how to run sensory friendly shopping hours and a new ‘hard of hearing’ uniform. 
  • Blakemore Retail, which is providing training for 4300 staff and making training available to their 700 independent SPAR Retailers 

75% of disabled people have had to leave a store or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability, according to research cited by Purple Tuesday itself. Research shows that most complaints from disabled people relate to experiences within the business/organisation premises, with disabled people more likely to spend money with organisations if they improve2

  • staff understanding about different disabilities (56%) 
  • the overall customer experience for disabled people (41%) 
  • store/shop/location accessibility (41%) 
  • website accessibility (16%) 

More than 1 in 3 disabled people (34%) said poor customer service prevented them from making a purchase, while 33% blamed a lack of understanding from staff about their needs. Some disabled respondents said improvements should include ‘being treated the same as anyone else’ and having ‘knowledgeable staff’.  

The research has led Purple Tuesday to call on organisations to focus on straightforward, low-cost solutions to improve the customer experience for disabled people – changes that go beyond the front door. Of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, 80% have a hidden impairment, meaning improvements and enhancements are needed to improve access for disabled people, beyond having a ramp installed to help enter a site. 

Mike Adams OBE, Chief Executive of Purple, said: “Meeting the needs of disabled customers makes commercial sense for organisations of all sizes, from all sectors, but our message to organisations is: you don’t have to spend big budgets to make lasting change. That’s why we’re urging organisations to focus on improvements that go ‘beyond the front door’. Introducing staff training and improving website accessibility are low cost changes, but the difference to a company’s bottom line – as well as to a disabled consumer’s personal experience – can be significant. 

“Purple Tuesday has more than doubled in size this year, with more than 2000 organisations from a variety of sectors making commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled people. These are long-term changes that will have a lasting impact for millions of customers – and improve the commercial opportunities for the organisations involved.” 

The purple pound is worth £249 billion and is rising by an average of 14% per annum, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market.Purple Tuesday’s research shows that more than 80% of disabled people say businesses could do more to be accessible and encourage them to spend money. 

Organisations can contact Purple for advice on how they can improve their approach to disabled consumers. Example changes include:  

  • Conducting an online audit of your website to improve accessibility 
  • Training staff to know and understand how to communicate effectively with disabled customers 
  • Getting front line staff to learn basic British Sign Langue skills to communicate with those customers from the deaf community 
  • Conducting an on-site audit to ensure the physical space is suitable for every customer to get around the area easily 
  • Improving wayfair signage around the facility 
  • Introducing quiet hours on a regular basis to help people who struggle with music, tannoys and noise. 

For more information on Purple Tuesday, please visit

3 key driving forces behind this year’s Singles’ Day

By Sophie Cheng, General Manager, FutureBrand China   

On the 10th November, Taylor Swift will headline the Alibaba Group’s Singles’ Day launch event at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz arena, kicking off the yearly 24-hour shopping spree that has come to dominate Chinese consumer commerce.

Swift’s presence is reflective of the new internationalism of a festival which now includes twenty-two thousand brands from eighty countries, and which last year saw over USD 30 billion of discounted merchandise sold in 24 hours.

Here are three key driving forces behind the success of the festival, which is set to be the biggest ever this year:-

  1. The rise of experience: Discounting is an important part of the event, but brands are moving away from seeing the festival as a race to the bottom. Instead, experience is becoming widely seen as one of the keys to the festival’s success, for example through celebrity endorsement and the gamification of the Alibaba platform. 
  2. Sociability and video commerce: Chinese consumers spend on average 44% of their time on social media applications, with 11% of their time spent watching, sharing, and creating short videos on apps such as Douyin (known as Tik Tok outside of China). Video-driven e-commerce has really taken off in recent years, with billions of dollars of livestreaming transactions occurring through Taobao in 2018 alone.
  3. Ecommerce is king: In 2016, Alibaba Group co-founder Jack Ma coined the term ‘new retail’ to describe the seamless integration of online and offline channels, and this year 200,000 ‘smart stores’ in China have signed up for Singles’ Day to make discounts available to Alibaba customers. While surveys have shown the younger generation of shoppers in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities distinctly favour this trend, Chinese consumers ultimately are more comfortable committing to the final transaction online. 

Ultimately, to win in China, brands need to understand all the nuances and emotive drivers in the world’s most powerful purchasing community so they can strengthen the connection between their brand purpose and everyday consumer experience within this exciting, but constantly shifting, market.

SME retailers: Brexit is our biggest challenge

More than a quarter of SME retailers are worried about Brixit and the impact that it will have on their business.

27 percent of SME retailers contacted as part of research by finance solutions provider Duologi said that Brexit posed the biggest threat to them, with 62 percent admitting that they felt unprepared and unclear of what the future of European trading meant.

24 percent of retailers polled also admitted that their biggest challenge was keeping up with digital trends, such as efficient online presence over larger and international competitors.

One in ten of those polled felt bigger players like Amazon could potentially steal customers through greater visibility online.

Michael Bevan, CEO of Duologi, said: “With political uncertainty continuing into the new year, SME retailers are still unclear on how this will affect them and how they can prepare. 

“Despite additional resources being made available ahead of an exit from the European Union (EU), deadline extensions scupper existing plans and safeguards, putting small businesses in a difficult position. The economic uncertainty also fuels further consumer hesitancy when it comes to spending on significant purchases, as they are unclear on what the immediate impact of an EU exit means for them.

“Keeping up with new technology and investing in the latest innovations is also a worry for a large number of businesses, who are restricted by budget and lack of knowledge in the ever-changing area of technology. Larger businesses are also able to outspend smaller competitors and invest in their own unique innovations.”

Home and DIY retailers feared Brexit the most, while fashion, jewellery, sports and leisure retailers all listed keeping up with technology as their biggest challenge in the coming year.

Bevan continued: “However, there are simple measures which can be put in place to safeguard a business that trades frequently with the EU. Alternative POS finance options allow small businesses to move with the times and the demands of the consumer, making existing business models sustainable and even increasing number of purchases and revenue, in the process. POS finance options are quick and easy to implement, even for SME retailers, and can make paying by finance as easy as paying with a card.”

Worryingly, less than half of SME retailers are confident they will be thriving in a decade, as the various business challenges take their toll.

The report by Duologi, Finance: an SME issue, surveyed 500 SMEs across a range of retail sectors about their concerns for the future and their knowledge and understanding of point-of-sale (POS) finance.

To read the report in full, visit:

Smarter Payments Summit: Register today!

The Smarter Payments Summit will return in 2020 – and you could join a select group of 60 fellow professionals for a full day of networking and connection building.

Registration is now open for you to book your complimentary guest pass.

Taking place on September 8th 2020 at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, the Smarter Payments Summit allows senior professionals to share forward-thinking ideas, meet new partners and discover new ways to underpin their security strategies.

It’s entirely FREE for you to attend and your complimentary guest pass includes:

  • A bespoke itinerary of pre-arranged meetings with product and service providers who match your requirements and upcoming projects
  • Access to a series of seminars by industry thought-leaders
  • Networking with like-minded peers
  • Complimentary lunch and refreshments

How Do I Get Involved?

We have just 60 guest passes available, so register your free place today.

Secure your place at the Retail Shopfitting & Display Summit

Make sure you’re registered to attend a unique two-day event that allows you to meet innovative new suppliers, attend educational seminar sessions and network with 60 other senior shopfitting, design and VM professionals.

The Retail Shopfitting & Display Summit takes place on March 9th & 10th at the Radisson Blu Hotel, London Stansted and is entirely free for retail professionals to attend. Smarter Payments Summit

You will be matched for a series of pre-arranged, 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers who match your requirements and upcoming projects. No time wasted and no hard sell.

Seminar sessions are also free to attend, while all hospitality – including overnight accommodation, all meals and refreshments, plus an invitation to our networking dinner – is entirely complimentary.

There are just 60 guest passes available, so register your place today to avoid disappointment.

Do you specialise in retail Window Displays? We want to hear from you!

Each month on Retail Briefing we’re shining the spotlight on different parts of the retail and eCommerce markets – in November we’ll be focussing on Window Displays.

It’s all part of our new ‘Recommended’ editorial feature, designed to help retail and eCommerce buyers find the best products and services available today.

So, if you’re a Window Display specialist and would like to be included as part of this exciting new shop window, we’d love to hear from you – for more info, contact Courtney Saggers on

Here are the areas we’ll be covering, month by month:

Nov – Window Displays
Dec – Digital Signage

For more information on any of the above, contact Courtney Saggers on

Christmas is coming: 3 ways retailers can ensure a more profitable festive season

Simon Wilson, HPE Aruba UK & Ireland, discusses how the High Street can leverage technology to boost the bottom line this Christmas...

With news that Selfridges have already opened their festive bauble shop, it seems Christmas is now front of mind for retailers. And for bricks-and-mortar stores battling against depleting footfalls and decaying consumer confidence, these Christmas trading figures will be crucial. 

Last year, the high street’s struggle to drive Christmas sales was blamed on online retail. However, there is more to the story of physical versus digital than meets the eye. As we edge ever closer to the festive season, retailers need reminding that e-retail is not the enemy. It is the customer who is changing the retail landscape, as consumer behaviour is changing at an unprecedented rate which is creating new demands and pressures for offline and online retailers alike. 

In fact, digital platforms such as Amazon are now looking into an in-store approach with Amazon Go, and internet sales still only represent under 25% of overall retail sales, signalling the continued consumer appetite for an in-person shopping experience. 

Brick and mortar retailers have enormous opportunity to leverage the distinct benefits of traditional, in-person shopping in ways that digital sites can only dream about. This Christmas, the winners will be those who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in order to create convenient and memorable shopping experiences. 

So, considering 85% of consumers still prefer to physically purchase products in-person, here’s 3 ways retailers can use physical stores to their advantage in the digital age and help drive Christmas sales…

  1. Bring the shopping experience to life 

Whilst traditional retail businesses based on brick-and-mortar stores urgently need to update their business models, they also need to start recognising the unique advantages their physical locations offer – and then using technology to enhance them. 

After all, unlike shopping online, brick-and-mortar stores can offer the possibility of in-person interactions with retail staff, as well as unique shared experiences that transcend traditional shopping routines. Take Virgin Holidays, which has opened a new chain of retail concept stores, with the aim to create an immersive environment and allow shoppers to try out various elements of the Virgin Holidays experience. Here, customers can test-run upper class seats in the mock-up of a Virgin Atlantic cabin, or visit the virtual reality installation, which takes people on a ‘rollercoaster’ of global Christmas holiday destinations.

This idea of ‘reverse showrooming’, when consumers research items/holidays online and then visit a store to try it out and receive expert advice rather than browsing in store and then going home to buy online, has been mirrored by Mango. The fashion retailers have leveraged technology to offer a similarly personalised service. Many of their fitting rooms now include radio frequency identification technology (RFID), which offers up recommended or co-ordinating items when a customer scans something. 

It’s not just about providing an immersive experience, and retailers must also utilise technology to provide shoppers with the most convenient visit possible. With daunting Christmas shopping queues in mind, Zara have launched self-service kiosks, which will no doubt streamline the purchase experience. 

The more retailers can play up these three elements, the more they can win back the hearts and minds of consumers, using the opportunity of in-store interaction to their unique advantage.

2. Break down siloes to connect shopper behaviour online and in-store

If retailers invest properly in infrastructure that breaks down internal siloes, they will be able to offer consumers a truly omnichannel shopping experience. Until recently, there was no connection between what a shopper bought or looked at online and their behaviour in-store. But knowing who the customer is, where they are, and their preferences is critical. To do this, retailers are using analytics, location, and context, and seeing rising sales as a result. 

The benefits of blending online services with in-store operations are exemplified by the rising popularity of cross-platform Click & Collect options. Consumers want to shop when and where the want, and the advent of Click & Collect has proven itself attractive to customers who desire more flexibility from their delivery options.

This service combines the convenience of internet shopping (easily comparing prices and filtering through what you want), with the in-store ease of collection, all the while driving people into physical stores at the same time. In fact, this service drives impulse buys, with research showing that 24% of European shoppers make unintended purchases while picking up their items in store. As retailers face backlogs of deliveries in the build up to the festive period, this alternative option can help ensure customer expectations are met. 

By aligning back-end operations with front-end customer service, and using technology at every step of the supply chain, the retail industry will start to get a single, multi-channel view of its omnichannel customers. This is exactly what it needs to offer the seamless, streamlined experience that consumers now demand.

3. Gather deeper insight into stock and inventory

Tied to the above point, part of developing insight into a customer’s in-store behaviour includes collecting data around stock and inventory.  At present, the structure of many retailers fails to live up to the needs of modern customers. Stock is typically siloed, and allocated to different pools that serve the physical shop, ecommerce, pop-ups, and wholesale. But this kind of approach is no longer fit for purpose in an omnichannel world. With growing customer demand to access any item through any channel at any time, retailers need to have a precise picture of their inventory 24/7.

To achieve this, and ultimately increase profit margins and retain customers, retailers must improve their data systems and make better use of inventory tracking technology. Investing in technologies such as radio-frequency identification and electronic shelf labels will enable retailers to monitor stock levels in real-time, and ensure they know exactly what they have in at any given time. Not only will this avoid customer disappointment in out-of-stock items but it maximises efficiencies, saving the retailer time and money in the long-run. 

The retailers who thrive during the Christmas build up, will be those that are able to reimagine and redefine their stores for the digital age. If technology is embraced and integrated in a way that empowers employees, serves customers and improves the bottom line, retailers can look forward to a profitable Christmas. 

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Shopping Mall

Retailers & consumers disconnected on in-store experiences

Retailers are letting down customer expectations, according to research conducted with over 15,000 respondents by Oracle Retail. 

The data revealed that retailers and consumers disagree on many aspects of retail, with the survey finding that although 57 percent of retailers thought that returning items was ‘very easy,’ the same share of consumers thought that returning products was a ‘complete hassle,’ or could be made much easier.

Retailers and consumers were also divided as to what they each thought was the most important in-store experience, with more than half (56 percent) of consumers rating convenience, such as having their size in stock, as the top priority, while only 34 percent of retailers noted it as such. 

Consumers also rank discovery, as in space to experiment and try new products (36 percent) and expert advice (22 percent) as important when shopping in-store. This was much higher than retailers who indicated these attributes at merely 18 and six percent, respectively. 

Retailers thought that faster shipping of goods was a priority to consumer needs, and while consumers agreed, they also were open to different ways their order could arrive as long as the delivery is fast and cheap. Ninety-two percent of consumers said they would like/love “free one-day delivery by whatever means is most expedient – drone, driverless car, messenger, etc.”

“Consumer expectations are perpetually in flux, with each positive experience setting a new bar for success in retail,” said Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail. 

“No matter if they’re enjoying the convenience of ridesharing, browsing through a seamless in-app experience or walking into a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers expect the same calibre of service in all interactions, upping the stakes for retailers as they compete with rival brands and new business models.”

The whole report can be read here:

PUMA debuts Skill Cube at flagship NYC store

German athletic brand PUMA has opened the doors on its latest flagship store on 5th Avenue,  New York, and unveiled an industry-first multi-sport, multi-sensory Skill Cube.

The cube is designed with the intention of giving retailers to the store the ability to virtually train with a host of top athletes, including Lewis Hamilton, Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku. 

This new approach by PUMA is the result of behavioural research into the brands target audience; Gen Z. Football superstars Griezmann and Lukaku host full coaching sessions, giving the user the option to choose a stadium or disused warehouse to experience the session while trying out the brand’s latest footwear in store. 

Jason Isenberg, Global Head of Commercial Marketing at PUMA, said: “Facilitating unique and immersive experiences is central to our long-term commercial strategy and the Skill Cube New York delivers on this in every way. This is truly a one of a kind experience and we are confident that our shoppers in the NYC Store will find it extremely engaging and compelling.”  

Once inside the Skill Cube, visitors are immersed in a multi-sensory environment incorporating 270° floor to ceiling LCD content screens, graphic projection, motion sensing devices, dynamic lighting and surround sound. The floor covering is a high-quality, multi-sport, synthetic turf, designed to bring the footwear benefits to the fore by simulating authentic trial conditions, that further enhance a life-like experience.

Visitors are scored on their performance and at the end of the experience, the stadium comes alive with confetti canons, fireworks, and a cheering crowd. The Training experience transports participants into a warehouse to train with Lewis Hamilton, who takes them through three trials; ladder, jab and jump, going head-to-head with their idols to develop their skills to be forever faster.  

Martyn Palmer, Digital Experience Director, added: “Our approach was to encourage engagement and disrupt ‘autopilot customer’ browsing, by introducing a highly curated approach to the experience zone, we have succeeded in creating a harmonious customer journey that mixes physical and digital interactions to elevate a positive product experience.” 

In both experiences, the data captured, pulls their position through to a digital leader-board housed on a large screen within the waiting area. Post-experience, everyone who takes part in the trial will receive a personalised email and SMS message for social sharing.

Skill Cube was designed and developed by human experience design studio, Green Room.

PUMA – Immersive Digital Experience Skill Cube, 5th Avenue flagship store from Green Room on Vimeo.

Secure your place – Retail Shopfitting & Display Summit

Don’t miss the chance to attend a unique two-day event that allows you to meet innovative new suppliers, attend educational seminar sessions and network with 60 other senior shopfitting, design and VM professionals.

The Retail Shopfitting & Display Summit takes place on March 9th & 10th at the Radisson Blu Hotel, London Stansted and is entirely free for retail professionals to attend. 

You will be matched for a series of pre-arranged, 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers who match your requirements and upcoming projects. No time wasted and no hard sell.

Seminar sessions are also free to attend, while all hospitality – including overnight accommodation, all meals and refreshments, plus an invitation to our networking dinner – is entirely complimentary.

There are just 60 guest passes available, so register your place today to avoid disappointment.