When social media makes your shop window bigger than ever, it’s vital to make sure you look your best.
That means showing off the best products and presentation, making customers feel welcome, standing out from the competition in a good way. It can also mean highlighting the more spectacular aspects of your building, such as the way it looks and the techniques you use to drive such attributes as energy efficiency. It should also include accessibility.
Vast amounts of money are spent on product research and development, on making a shopping complex more striking than the one down the road or in the next town, and on letting people know about it.
The benefits which accrue from such a pro-active approach can be immense, and they will include more trade from a high-value section of society if you get your accessibility right.
In readiness for construction of a major shopping development we have been exploring what other sites are doing in terms of accessibility. Our site is in London and we’re conducting research all over the country to identify, and then try to apply, best practice.
If you are designing or building a shopping centre, or carrying out a major refurbishment, it’s a good idea to see how accessibility features have improved and progressed. The same applies if you’re working on an office, hotel, leisure centre, sport stadium, theme park, transport interchange – anywhere that will be used by a lot of people who need to be able to move around and use the services and facilities. You want to make sure that what you are offering is up to date and as good as it can be.
Small projects can learn from big projects, and vice versa. For example, the guidance around providing accessible loos doesn’t change much between a small library and Wembley Stadium, but Wembley just needs more of them.
In carrying out the research we have seen some places that do not apply best practice, and others that just tick the boxes. It’s OK to look at guidance such as British Standard, or Approved Document M of the Building Regulation but there’s no reason why an organisation shouldn’t be more innovative with its buildings, pushing the boundaries further than current guidance suggests.
See what other places offer in terms of accessibility and either adapt it or try to go a step further. It would be good for designers and developers to think a bit more outside the box, work together to come up with new ideas rather than just stick with the norm.
A building should not just look fantastic, it should be fantastic for everybody who uses it.
It’s about delivering the best customer service. The way you treat your customers influences the extent of repeat business through word of mouth, which has become even more crucial to the reputation of the business in this age of online and social media.
Our client in this instance wants to have a designer outlet of high end, prestige upmarket brands and that means creating a building and a service offer to complement the quality of the retail brands. They recognise the value of getting it right.
Because it’s located within an iconic venue they need to be particularly mindful of how each part of the property is perceived; a flaw in one part of the shopping, dining or drinking experience can have a detrimental effect on the brand as a whole. And they recognise accessibility is an important part of the offer.
Once you achieve best practice and set new standards, shout about it. If you make improvements in accessibility use it as a PR tool. Don’t wait for customers and competitors to find out about it themselves and put their own spin on it – use your own website and social media channels to show what you have done and how it will improve access to your products and services.
Disabled people will go online to assess the levels of accessibility of a place they are thinking of visiting. If they see good facilities they will share the link with friends, and they will also post warnings where facilities are inadequate.
The various lobby groups which represent disabled people also conduct their own research and report to the media and the government on the best and worst that they experience.
Don’t take the chance of being signposted for your failings. Post pictures of the accessible features and write an access statement setting out the factual details of what you provide so that people can make an informed choice.