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Are businesses listening to the voice of disabled consumers?

In this guest post Robin Hindle Fisher, chair of an independent inquiry into the extra costs faced by disabled people, tells us why more businesses need to appreciate the ‘purple pound’.

I know from my own personal experience that disabled people inevitably have significantly higher costs of living than others and often have to pay more for exactly the same goods and services.

Higher energy needs, added charges for taxis, expensive disability equipment – these are just some examples of the extra costs disabled people face in everyday life. That’s why I agreed to lead an independent panel of business people – the Extra Costs Commission – a year-long inquiry into how we can bring down the premium that disabled people and their families pay.

The value of the ‘purple pound’ to business

One way to address this is to get businesses to appreciate the true value of the so-called ‘purple pound’. Our research shows that disabled people are loyal consumers, but they aren’t afraid to take their custom elsewhere when they receive poor customer service.

In a survey of over 2,500 disabled people and their families, the Commission found that 75% of disabled people have left a shop or business because it failed to meet their needs. Those businesses could be missing out on billions of pounds every month.

In fact, the huge value of the purple pound should make businesses sit up and take notice. Government figures show that this market is worth £212bn per year. Businesses that understand the needs of disabled customers will have an advantage over their competitors.

Disabled people need to become savvier consumers

One way to improve the way markets supply goods and services to disabled people and their families is to encourage disabled people to become ‘savvier’ consumers.

The Commission has set out a range of interim recommendations:

  • Setting up an online review site for disability-related products, so disabled people can tell each other about where they’ve found the best value deals or good customer service.
  • Piloting a Nectar card type affiliate scheme to help disabled people get good deals and help businesses reach this group.
  • Switching schemes and buyers clubs to drive down costs of the things which disabled people buy more of.
  • Increased awareness of the value of the purple pound and better evidence about disabled consumers to help businesses serve this group more effectively.
  • Strengthening complaints procedures for dissatisfied customers.

We want all companies to hear the voice of disabled people, and understand they are valuable and loyal customers. So if you’ve got a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you.

This is a guest post from Robin Hindle Fisher, Chair of the Extra Costs Commission, an independent inquiry into the extra costs faced by disabled people. All opinions are Robin’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


An interesting article. The conclusions seem vary valid.

I do feel slightly dismayed that this distinct group are not more organised already. This is not meant to be harsh. Iin the last century I was looking at charity sites for useful equipment and other on-line resource. The situation seems analogous to the founding of the Consumers’ Association in the 1950’s.

However it is now significantly cheaper and easier for people to become organised. Also most charities I imagine in the this area have web sites and know of each other. A common site would allow cross-over of items and be run at reduced costs.

As RICA a research body for the disabled is already associated with Which? perhaps either they or Which? can host a site for say three years that eventually will be paid for and managed by the disabled charities.

I think important that there is a single identifiable site where all disability sufferers can see what is available and what charities have what items. It should be a membership only site so that the charities who sponsor it are not cut out of the loop and you are a member of a charity to get access. This may sound ponderous but my concern is that unless charities are included in they will fear loss of members and income and not join up.

Lastly Which? is crticised as its reviews are never long term tests and the review feedback system is not overly rigorous in its requirements on posting. I would suggest strongly that a system is set-up where users are polled regularly on the important bits of kit they use.

I am aware that stairlifts can vary considerably in breakdown rates however without details of usage rates and nature of problems relying on two line anecdotes and one or five stars is not very useful.

To the extent that hearing impairment is a disability, and the need for hearing augmentation is quite widespread throughout the population for both clarity and volume, it is shocking that retail businesses are disregarding – to the point of repudiation – the interference with their hearing that sufferers experience with piped music and the pain, both physical and mental, that it causes through the struggle to distinguish voice and other necessary sounds from the overlay of music. The Conversation entitled “Which shops play the most annoying background music?” gives ample evidence of both the problem and the entirely unsympathetic response of the industry.