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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Is Your Business Doing Enough for Disabled Customers?

Is Your Business Doing Enough for Disabled Customers?
Credit: Urbanbuzz/Shutterstock

Businesses are not doing enough to ensure disabled customers have a positive consumer experience, one researcher argues in a new paper.

Despite their progress in giving disabled customers access, many businesses don't recognize that the consumer experience goes beyond the ability to simply enter a building, according to research from Rutgers University-Camden.

"Maybe they can get in, and maybe there is a ramp, but what about the rest?" Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, the study's author and a professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, said in a statement. "If the aisles are blocked and there's merchandise in the way, and shoppers just can't get around the store, it's a signal that they're not welcome."

The research points to a court case involving Hollister clothing stores. The business has steps leading up to the entrance of the store, which is made to look like a beach-style hut.

Although a federal court originally ruled that the store entrance violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the case was overturned in 2014, when the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court found that, because Hollister offers alternative entrances for the disabled, the retailer was not breaking any laws. [Customer Experience Rules, Online and Off ]

"The problem was that they only talked about the entrances being compliant, and they did not talk about the consumer experience," Kaufman-Scarborough said. "If we're only discussing the number of doors, or only asking about access, then we haven't done our jobs."

As part of her research, Kaufman-Scarborough sent a group of students into the Hollister stores to gauge the customer experience. They discovered that alternative doors on both sides of the porch were hard to notice and sometimes locked from the inside. Once inside, they found that the aisles were narrow and occasionally blocked by merchandise.

Retailers aren't the only businesses providing a poor experience for disabled customers, Kaufman-Scarborough said. Fast-food restaurants with assembly counters are often difficult for those in wheelchairs to see, and movie theaters with wheelchair seating in the first few rows makes for a poor viewing experience, she noted.

Part of the problem is that some businesses don't fully understand their customers, and others would rather not spend the money to make their stores fully accessible to the disabled, Kaufman-Scarborough said.

"Some think that they don't have to fix their stores because they don't have disabled customers," Kaufman-Scarborough said. "Well, you probably don't have any because you haven't made the accommodations."

Kaufman-Scarborough hopes her research helps retailers and the courts realize that the consumer experience goes far beyond access. "Even a fairly simplistic accommodation can go a long way, and you can do it without incurring a large expense," she said.

Kaufman-Scarborough's paper, "Forces for Change in Consumer Access: A Retrospective Analysis of the Hollister Case," was recently presented at the American Marketing Association's Marketing and Public Policy Conference.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.