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Signs of success

Signs of success

Joanne Turner, Head of Marketing at queue management specialist Tensator

Signs and wayfinding systems have long been used to improve in-store experiences and drive impulse purchases. Now, as more retailers step up their efforts to assist disabled and elderly customers, Joanne Turner, Head of Marketing at queue management specialist Tensator, looks at why clear communications have never been more important.

Campaigns around ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ health conditions have been gathering pace for some time now, highlighting the challenges some people face on a daily basis. For a person with autism, anxiety, dementia or bowel disease for example, visiting a busy shopping centre or supermarket can easily become overwhelming, or even impossible, because retailers have not recognised their needs.

Recent initiatives, such as Tesco’s relaxed checkouts for vulnerable customers have undoubtedly proved to be a catalyst for major brands to take action. Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose and Tesco have all introduced signs on their accessible toilets, showing that it’s not always obvious why someone may need to use these facilities.

This simple policy costs relatively little to roll out yet it has the power to reduce anxiety for thousands of shoppers. Aside from fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities, the signs have attracted praise from charities like Crohn’s and Colitis UK and the public and they could make the difference between a shopper with a specific condition visiting the store or choosing a competitor.

When it comes to creating inclusive customer experiences, I believe we have only just scratched the surface of what can be achieved. As life expectancy increases, so too will the number of people living with mobility problems, visual and hearing impairments and dementia. Of course, the majority want to live – and shop – independently for as long as possible, even if they have complex health conditions.


While the daily lunchtime rush or sales season are just about bearable for many shoppers, those who are more vulnerable can really struggle. A face-to-face chat with a staff member may be all it takes to put them at ease, but as retailers continue to push self-service, managers must be shrewd about how they use their limited customer service resources more effectively, particularly during busy times.

The success of any store highly depends on its wayfinding system and this includes how well it meets the diverse requirements of elderly and disabled shoppers. At the checkout, for example, barriers are key to defining queuing areas, reducing confusion and frustration. If a store operates both self-service and manned tills, barriers enable people to swiftly find the right one for them. It means that customers who would prefer to speak to an assistant can take their place in a clearly-marked line instead of worrying about whether there will be anyone available at the self-service machine. Barriers can also be used to display important messages, such as where the queue starts and where to wait before speaking to an assistant.

Our work for retail clients has only emphasised the importance of designing accessible stores and whenever barriers and signage are installed, we pay close attention to what impact they will have on shoppers. Any changes should, of course, improve movement around the store and reduce waiting times, leaving customers feeling positive about the brand and more likely to make a purchase and increase the likelihood of a return visit.


It was this rationale that guided the design of the universal base for our Tensabarrier queue management system. Trip hazards, such as poor fixtures or rubbish and equipment left lying around, are a regular problem for people with reduced mobility. The base has a low, bevelled edge to allow a wheelchair to run over it smoothly.

This is just one of many new innovations contributing to better accessibility in shops and it’s reassuring to see supermarkets introducing ‘quiet hours’ for autistic shoppers and relaxed checkouts that give people more time to pay for their goods and speak to an assistant. These measures also demonstrate the requirements outlined in the Equalities Act, that businesses should make reasonable adjustments to not put a disabled person at a disadvantage.

While our focus has so far been on retail, accessibility is an issue in any public space from entertainment complexes and sports venues to transport hubs and council buildings. The costs saved by deploying self-service machines, for example, must be considered in relation to the perceptions, needs and behaviours of different groups. Nobody wants to alienate vulnerable shoppers – but this is precisely what happens when brands fail to implement a system that works for all.

Accessibility is not a ‘box ticking’ exercise and the fact that 75 per cent[1] of disabled shoppers say they have left a store because of poor service shows the sheer number of sales retailers could be missing out on. Along with specialist training for staff, it’s invariably the simple changes like improved signage and wayfinding that will draw people in.

Further information on Tensator® and its queue management and wayfinding solutions are available at

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