The power of the ‘purple pound’ – the spending ability of disabled people is much underrated. According to research carried out in 2015 by the Extra Costs Commission, a project organised by disability charity, Scope, businesses may be losing out on £1.8 billion a month by not addressing the needs of their actual and potential disabled customers. Issues such as poor access and facilities reduce the number of physical premises that disabled people will shop in, driving ever more of us to make our purchases online
By Martine O’Callaghan
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to online shopping. While you can order your spuds in your pyjamas and not have to worry about where or whether you can park, you don’t get to see or feel the items that you want to buy before you part with your money. This is where online reviews come into their own.
Most online retailers offer customers the option to review products they have purchased. Well established sites such as Amazon may have dozens, even hundreds of reviews per item. These range from comedy gold and worth a read whether you want to buy a ballpoint pen “for her” or not, to a spare few words and a star rating to walls of text detailing every positive and negative aspect of a given item. You can even review reviews, seeking out those which others have found most useful.
When evaluating customer reviews, note the volume a product or service has received. More niche products and smaller, specialist sites tend to have far fewer reviews if any at all. A single ﬁve or one star rating in a small number can skew the overall rating greatly. Take time to read the best and the worst. Be aware too, that what motivates people to write reviews is, more often than not, a negative experience. After all, when was the last time you made an effort to tell the world that the meal you just ate or sweater you bought was thoroughly adequate and met, but did not exceed, your expectations? Good reviews tend to be brief, and the bad ones exponentially longer and more detailed. Customer reviews, on the whole, tend towards the negative.
There are many websites, blogs and YouTube channels that review products within a certain genre, be they games, kitchen gadgets or tablet computers. When making a purchase, especially an expensive one, seek out these sites. Check that the review is not being sponsored by the product’s manufacturer and seek multiple reviews where available.
Message boards and social sites such as Reddit, Money Saving Expert and a host of others often have long discussion threads on customer aftercare.
When looking for specialist goods or services, disability speciﬁc Facebook groups can provide a wealth of information. However, some of these groups may require you to be approved for membership.
So, you have found the product that you would like to buy. It’s the right size and shape, it has good reviews and even the negative ones don’t bother you, and all your new Facebook friends have got one. You’re ready to take the plunge but where to buy?
There are more options than ever. The big supermarkets often have partners who supply ‘online exclusive’ products you can order through the trusted name’s website: from perfume to summer houses. Although you may be able to collect in store, and the third party’s returns policy may be, though not always, in line with that of the larger retailer, often these items cannot be returned to the store. (Check the returns policy before you buy.)
New or Used?
If you cannot buy your goods from a major retailer, as is frequently the case for specialist products, you can verify the trustworthiness of the site you wish to buy from in a number of ways. A basic Google search of the site’s name with ‘reviews’ tagged on will lead to discussion threads, and, in the worst cases, news stories about that retailer. A more nuanced appraisal may be found in social media groups. Rica.org.uk carries lots of reviews of goods, services and retailers catering to older and disabled communities. Trustedshops.co.uk offers reviews and ratings of a large number of online retailers of all sizes.
Smaller outlets may not only charge for delivery but returns may be at the buyer’s expense too – and for larger items that can be costly indeed. This is, more often than not, the case when buying second hand goods. If you are considering buying a used item you may not be able to return it at all. There are, no doubt, advantages to buying second hand, cost being the most obvious. You are also, mostly, buying from an individual whom you can contact directly to ask questions and clarify policies. However, bear in mind, that person is still after a sale! Curated sites, such as eBay, allow and actively encourage customers to review sellers. Sellers using such sites are bound by terms and conditions and there is a means of redress, however slow and convoluted, should a dispute arise. This offers you more protection than, social media buy sell and swap groups or non-curated sites like Gum Tree.
You have made your purchase but it’s not quite what you wanted or it is faulty, broken or damaged. What are your rights? General but comprehensive information can be found at ConsumerRights.com. Every transaction is, essentially, a contract between you and the vendor who should be your ﬁrst port of call should a problem arise. This contract goes beyond providing goods or services of an expected quality at an agreed price. Any aftercare, advice or right of return promised or implied must be honoured.
Appliances, for instance, have time limited warranties so, should your new washing machine, say, breakdown within the ﬁrst year, the manufacturer should repair or replace it free of charge. However, getting that arranged can be quite difﬁcult, especially for disabled people – as there may be barriers to accessing customer services. Not being able to access the promised aftersales beneﬁts is a breach of contract. Make a Difference Reviews are only as good as reviewers. Write honest appraisals of goods and services you have purchased be they good, bad or indifferent. Information helps and in this digital age, it’s up to us to provide it.