This blog is the first in a two-part series exploring the opportunity and obligation to design inclusive commerce experiences for differently abled consumers.
Ability-Diverse Commerce: Why it Matters
Author: Carolyn Mundorf
May 20, 2021
Getting her dressed before school, I sing the “silly socks” song as I put on Claire’s shoes. Grabbing her pink unicorn backpack, I gently steer her three-foot-tall form toward the car as she babbles and giggles to herself. My daughter is almost 15. She has a rare genetic mutation that resulted in a variety of physical and intellectual symptoms: dwarfism, severe scoliosis, kidney abnormalities, multiple food allergies, and significant intellectual impairment.
Claire is a non-verbal, permanently incontinent, vertically challenged, happy girl who looks like a four-year-old and acts like a two-year-old — and will for the rest of her life. She cannot feed or dress herself, has no concept of time or safety, and will never live independently. As companies creatively strive to increase market share and embrace inclusivity, how does the economic landscape account for someone like Claire?
This question leads me to explore an untapped commerce opportunity with enormous potential for marrying the goals of consumer satisfaction, client revenue, and corporate social responsibility. Even before the pandemic kept the public from entering brick-and-mortar or big-box stores, a large segment of the population was regularly inconvenienced by or downright hindered from “in-person” shopping experiences — whether a quick local trip to select groceries or a search across several stores for appropriate home furnishings, clothing, electronics, or luxury items.
Recent statistics show that one in four US adults lives with a “disability.” This demographic slice offers notable commerce potential in customers with physical, intellectual, and emotional ability challenges that impact daily living activities from safety, personal hygiene, and dressing to feeding, cleanliness, or mobility. In a sense, while the recent worldwide “lock-down” left millions temporarily unable to leave their homes and increasingly reliant upon eCommerce to fill their consumer needs, these difficulties are regularly experienced by those with diverse impairments and abilities.
I would like to offer the respectful and politically sensitive term “ability-diverse commerce” as a moniker for consumer experiences that target this broad group of individuals, particularly eCommerce that caters to and leverages the needs of the “ability-diverse” community based on lessons learned from the pandemic shut-downs and challenges to traditional brick-and-mortar shops.
For an agency seeking to apply technology to strategically design direct-to-consumer (D2C) experiences that foster a relationship of satisfaction, loyalty, and profitability between brands and people, in the case of the ability-diverse demographic, these relational opportunities are not just with the consumers themselves, but also their families, friends, therapists, doctors, and educators who provide a large net for commerce-growing connections. Marketing to this specialized segment and their diverse needs also involves an understanding of products available and appropriate for mobility, intellectual challenges, sensory and stimulation needs, quality of life, or therapeutic support.
Questions for the ability-diverse consumer:
- What? What is out there for my specific needs/challenges? What is available? Are there many options?
- Where? Where can I get specialized products?
- Who? Who needs what? What kinds of challenges need what products?
- How? How do I get it? How do I use it? How can I try it? Are there informational sections on websites for specialized products offering support, options, or testimonies?
- When? When are some products more necessary than others? As I progress over the course of my life with my particular challenge, illness, disability, disease, when will other products be helpful and how can I keep ahead of my estimated needs over time? Can I set up automated services to limit my time online re-ordering?
Connected commerce opportunities
The ability-diverse consumer encompasses individuals across ages, gender, ethnicity, income, psychographic, and geographic areas. Behaviorally, a large portion is mobility-challenged, generally demonstrating high-brand loyalty, and are willing to spend for quality-of-life improvement products, but their funds for luxuries may be limited. In great demand are highly specialized therapeutic, lifestyle, and accessibility items that don’t often have many alternative sources; the products are often game-changers in terms of improving quality of life for ability-diversity consumers and good products will, therefore, have high customer loyalty.
“Improving the customer experience and providing consistent, clear, connected commerce opportunities involves an in-depth awareness of the diversity of user needs not only in what products are appropriate and desired but also in how the user interacts with the brand’s eCommerce site.”
Specific areas of focus include:
- Investing resources in digital marketing (media, search, SEO, analysis) to produce leads.
- Making sites increasingly accessible for those with vision or tactile impairments. Customer service support with in-depth knowledge of consumer needs.
- Increased online social interaction, testimonies, and recommendations.
- Reduced keystrokes—seamlessly incorporating smart personalized emails, notifications, or prefilled addresses.
- Personalized recommendations for other products, discounts, follow-up emails for abandoned carts.
- Online ability to adjust the frequency of deliveries, additional customizations based on needs.
- Supporting small and niche businesses in getting their products and stores online.
- Targeting and linking support groups, therapists, schools, and hospitals with brands and their products.
After dropping Claire off at school, I remember a sensory toy I want to purchase for her birthday. Will I find it after spending hours searching in person at local stores? How much more will it cost if I purchase from a third-party megalithic shopping site? Or will I instead find my item on a brands’ site through a simple online search, as well as related items appropriate for her specific needs and challenges? I need to focus on my child’s health and happiness—I don’t have the extra time and money to waste finding products I need to improve the quality of her life.
The challenge to the eCommerce community, in light of what the industry has learned in the past year of mobility and in-person challenges, is to now apply this knowledge to ability-diverse commerce as an emerging segment across consumer verticals.
This untapped territory provides vast new opportunities for creating engaging and accessible user experiences, targeting customers to get the right products into the right hands, providing pertinent customer support and social forums, and, ultimately, changing lives simply by improving the channel carved between brands and the people that need and love them. The mission now as we streamline business processes, innovate new experiences, and analyze new revenue paths for eCommerce clients is to invest in the human paradigm and connect this consumer demographic to the brands and products that can make their lives easier, safer, and more enjoyable.
Senior Analyst & Proposal Coordinator