British stores failing disabled consumers
improving the quality of service that they offer to their customers
in recent years, and this has become as much a way of
differentiating between fascias as the products they offer and the
prices they sell at.
But there is one area where it appears that all the leading UK supermarket chains have failed to serve the needs of a core section of their customer base.
The results of the 2004 Baywatch survey published this month show that the abuse of parking spaces reserved for disabled customers has increased since the previous year, despite the fact that Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Safeway had all pledged to take action to improve the situation.
According to the survey, the number of cars parked in disabled bays without a valid badge rose from 18.5 per cent in January 2003 to nearly 21 per cent in January 2004, or more than one in five. More than 800 car parks belonging to the big four supermarkets across the UK were surveyed.
In more than one third (37 per cent) of the stores, disabled people were unable to park in a designated space because of abuse by non-badge holders.
Rather more worrying for an industry which prides itself on its high levels of customer service, the survey showed that disabled customers who complained about the abuse of the reserved parking system were given increasingly short shrift. Only 30 per cent of respondents said that the stores had responded well to complaints, down from (the equally low) 32 per cent in 2003.
All the four leading chains showed a deterioration compared to the previous year, with Asda showing the biggest increase in abuse - 18 per cent of cars were parked illegally in 2003, compared to 22 per cent in 2004. Both Tesco and Safeway saw a 2 per cent increase to 21 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
Sainsbury had the best performance, with abuses rising just 1 per cent to 17 per cent between 2003 and 2004, and the company said it remained committed to keeping the parking spaces clear for disabled drivers.
"Sainsbury fully supports the Baywatch campaign. We are disappointed that the mis-use of spaces in our car parks has increased slightly, however, as the survey results show, Sainsbury's has the lowest amount of mis-use out of the four supermarkets taking part in the scheme, and we are working hard towards reducing this figure," the company said in a statement.
Sainsbury said that a poster campaign in December 2003 to raise customer awareness on the issue and to remind customers to keep disabled parking bays free had proved to be successful. It said that its policy was also to place stickers on cars of customers that persistently park in disabled bays without the requisite blue badge.
Keeping consumers happy is a core element of the supermarket retail business, but while low prices, longer opening hours, more convenient store locations and wider product ranges are obvious means of ensuring this goal is achieved, the role played by parking - disabled or otherwise - is often overlooked.
With so many stores in out-of-town locations, most shoppers are obliged to take their cars with them, and keeping them happy before they get into the store environment itself is becoming ever more important - and increasingly harder for the major retail groups.