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2022 Trend Report: Filling the Need for Inclusive Retail Experiences

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The pandemic pushed the already supersonic digital acceleration into warp drive with technology innovation and adoption predictions coming to pass years ahead of schedule. In 2022, retailers are advancing their diversity and inclusion initiatives and creating exceptional customer experiences for all.

Brands that are redefining the standard of beauty

Retail experiences are a little bit like pret a porter clothing sizes- your range of options are dependent on your measurements. In the retail and cosmetic segments, people who do not fit the narrow standard of beauty often find in-store shopping daunting tasks that can be painful or potentially traumatic;  LGBTQI+ customers, those who are neurodivergent, do not wear a straight size, or have physical disabilities, among others, may experience shopping very differently than what is intended.

It is understood that paying lip service to social issues is a losing gambit and the court of public opinion judges every misstep harshly. This can understandably make organizations reticent to act and may hurt efforts to move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusivity efforts on a larger scale. In the retail industry, however, there are some trailblazers leading the charge towards a more inclusive and welcoming world of fashion.

Sephora

Sephora We Belong to Something Beautiful Campaign

                              Sephora is a beauty brand building a more inclusive and diverse space

Sephora’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Progress Report from July 2021 illustrates the numerous ways that the brand is making good on their pledge to “make the Sephora experience more inclusive and equitable, for our team members, clients, and the broader beauty community”. Their efforts have born fruit.

Wherever you visit Sephora, be it a physical location or online, their commitment to diversity is evident. They have actively sought to expand their product lines to include Black-owned brands and ensure that every touchpoint of the Sephora brand from product offering to workforce reflect the diversity of their community.

In an article published by Vox, author Emily VanDerWerff describes her experience trying to find her true self and the fears that accompany what should be an empowering reclamation of their authentic selves. She goes on to describe a meaningful and empowering interaction she had at Sephora with a sales associate who used she/her pronouns, complimented Emily, and “made me feel so good about myself”.

Sephora has also implemented programs that make the brand experience more friendly for neurodiverse customers and employees. They are making the in-store shopping experience more welcoming to neurodivergent guests by providing color coded baskets that communicate the level of interaction customers would like to have with sales associates. 

The experiences that Ms.VanDerWerff and neurodivergent customers have while shopping at Sephora are as remarkable as they are because of Sephora’s commitment to and investment in their beauty advisors. Beauty advisors receive training that goes far beyond the product knowledge fluency they are known for. According to the July report, Sephora employees take part in over 20 inclusivity training modules that help them to identify and mitigate unconscious biases. 

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer celebrates inclusion and diversity

                                           British high street staple Marks & Spencer has made strong commitments to DE& I

Marks & Spencer’s DE&I programs have been making headlines across the UK and further abroad while also making customers feel more comfortable and confident while shopping. In 2020, M&S CEO committed to wide scale improvements to their DE&I programs and, like Sephora, the brand has held itself publicly accountable.

The department store has taken a strong position on gender inclusivity despite conservative opposition. Dressing rooms at Marks and Spencer are gender neutral and the company is normalizing the use of pronouns by inviting sales associates to share theirs on name tags. The company has also become widely regarded in the trans community for the support and service M&S associates offer for customers looking for help with intimate apparel that aligns with their gender identity.

Marks & Spencers also takes part in the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme. The Hidden Disability Sunflower is a “globally recognised symbol for non-visible disabilities”. Alongside disabilities, this program helps employees at retailers like Marks and Spencer identify and properly support customers on the autism spectrum and conditions that impact daily life. M&S offers quiet shopping hours for people with sensory conditions. 

They have also partnered with non-profits and external organisations specializing in inclusivity and diversity training to ensure that employees and management can identify bias and act with cultural sensitivity with all Marks and Spencer stakeholders. 

The role of technology in creating inclusive retail experiences

Where 2020 saw retail brands looking to optimize their e-commerce capabilities,  retailers in 2021 set about aligning their online and in-store experiences and making them more personalised. This year, retailers are applying these enhancements and moving past personalisation to create immersive brand experiences. They are reframing the meaning of “inclusive” and acting on opportunities to enhance accessibility and support marginalised communities in more meaningful ways. 

As illustrated above, brands like Sephora and Marks and Spencer are committing to making the in-store experience welcoming, inclusive, and exceptional for all customers. The extensive investment in training equips sales associates with the tools to serve all of their customers sensitively and with respect. Virtual shopping and clienteling software is helping retailers to do this by making it possible for their sales associates to connect with and support marginalized customer segments.

Customers that don’t fit the mold are the ones who benefit from and most appreciate the guidance and styling tips that sales associates can provide. Historically, however, the valuable guidance they offer has only been available to customers shopping in-store, rendering it inaccessible. Omnichannel retail technology is helping retailers to create welcoming and inclusive online shopping experiences for customer segments hesitant to seek help in-store. 

With virtual shopping and clienteling tools like those available through the Salesfloor platform, customers can connect and establish a rapport with local sales associates via live chat, email, SMS or WhatsApp, and social media. They can ask for styling tips, support with sizing, confirm availability of products in-store, and book both virtual and in-store appointments with trusted sales associates. For the countless customers that consider shopping a daunting or traumatic experience, pairing the security of online shopping with the expertise and personal advice of retail associates can have a lasting, positive impact and make retail a truly inclusive space for all.

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