Image of yellow characters shopping on a green background

How shopping habits of people with an invisible disability have been altered by COVID-19

A year on from the first empty shelves, enforced closures as a result of lockdowns and ever-changing safety measures that were put in place to stem the spread of Coronavirus, we wanted to find out whether your experience of visiting the shops had changed as a result of the pandemic.

During the month of August, we asked people with a non-visible disability, about how their shopping habits have evolved, to gain a deeper understanding of how retailers and the Sunflower can support you when visiting shopping centres, now and in the future.

Interestingly, the majority of people that took part in the survey are of an age considered most at risk from developing serious illness from Covid-19. It is therefore, perhaps unsurprising that we discovered that shopping habits have been altered by the pandemic. We found that there was a marked reduction in frequency of visits to shopping centres, concerns about safety precautions, overcrowding and queuing.

The survey demographic

We received 862 responses over the course of the month, with the overwhelming majority of respondents based in England (78.2%).
Almost 70% (69.1%) of the people that took part in our survey are aged 45+, people that are more at risk of serious illness from coronavirus. With 42.4% aged 55 or over, the most vulnerable age groups.

93.7% of respondents have an invisible disability. The most common invisible disabilities are mental health conditions (396 respondents), mobility impairments (322 respondents) and lung conditions, such as asthma and COPD (315 respondents).

Most people access the shops via a combination of both online and high street (49.7%). With 28.2% stating that they only use online shopping and 22.1% indicating that they only shop in physical stores.

Here's what they had to say . . .

When asked the question “Why do you visit a shopping centre?” our respondents top three answers were:
1. I can get what I need quickly and go (369)
2. I find physical shopping more accessible than online shopping (226)
3. I like to be able to talk to retail staff about the choices I'm making when buying products (211).

The majority of people (77%) spent under 30 minutes travelling to a shopping centre.

About Coronavirus . . .

Before COVID-19 hit, most of our respondents either visited a shopping centre a few times a week (40.9%), or a few times a month (34.3%). Following the easing of restrictions, this percentage has dropped to 18.2% (for a few times a week) and 27.8% (for a few times a month), a decrease in footfall of 22.7% and 6.5%, respectively. Unsurprisingly, this has meant that the amount of people who said they never or rarely visited a shopping centre has increased from 12.9% (pre-pandemic) to 32.7% (today).

That's almost a 20% increase in the amount of people with an invisible disability avoiding a shopping centre.

Concerns about the risks of contracting coronavirus continued to flow into the next question, with 45.5% of our survey always checking the safety procedures in place at shopping centres before visiting.

The largest challenges faced by our survey when visiting the shops were:
1. Crowded areas (583)
2. Not being able to stand for long periods of time (472)
3. Queuing (469)
4. Using public toilets (314)

Due to social distancing playing such a vital role in keeping everyone safe, it is perhaps unsurprising to see 'crowded areas' as a concern. Queuing is difficult for those with mobility impairments (which 322 respondents have), who cannot stand for long periods of time, which explains this correlation. Although the pandemic originally led to shopping centres closing their public toilets, the fact that access to a toilet is still a major concern for people with an invisible disability is something that needs addressing by shopping centres in order to encourage this customer base back to the shops.

On the subject of whether people thought shopping centres were a safe place to visit, our respondents were on the hesitant side, with 32% of people disagreeing with the statement: 'I feel that shopping centres are a safe place for me to visit'.

About how inclusive shopping centres are . . .

When asked the question: 'What kind of adjustments would you like to see made at shopping centres?' the most popular answers were:
1. Access to seating areas (464)
2. More floor space to shop comfortably (441)
3. Dedicated quiet hours (414)

Sadly, a third of people with an invisible disability that answered our survey still do not feel valued and respected when visiting a shopping centre. This increased to 52.4% of people disagreeing with the statement 'I feel that the shopping centre I visit regularly, understands the challenges I face during my visit.' And a further 32% of people disagreed with the statement: 'The shopping centre I visit regularly, resolves issues when I feel something negative happens to me during my visit - for example, if I am unable to easily access the shop'. An inclusive shopping experience for all, appears to remain a work in progress.

How can the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower help?

84% of our survey wear the Sunflower when out shopping but only 17% of people were aware that their local shopping centre had joined the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower indicates to those around you that you may need support, understanding or a little more time. When shopping centres and retailers join the Sunflower, we provide training to employees to help them recognise the lanyard and offer the people wearing it, the support and understanding that they may need. If you would like to raise awareness of the Sunflower with your local shopping centre please visit our raising awareness page to discover ways that you can help.