5 Ways to Boost Your Popularity When Assisting a Blind Customer

Woman touching handbag
Woman touching handbag. Harry Williamson/Spring Studio

If you have ever been caught with a sense of anxiety or dread, not knowing how to best assist a shopper who is blind or visually-impaired when they come into your retail store, take heart, you are not the only one.

It is curious that as soon as a white cane or guide dog appears in a store, the atmosphere can change. You might think an alien of some kind had landed, and in a funny way, for some sighted people who haven’t met a blind person before, it can feel as if we are both on different planets.

Usually,  lending your assistance to your shoppers isn’t a difficult task but sighted people seem to freeze up as soon as a person with low vision enters the store, they can either over-compensate by being too eager to help or, sad to say, act insensitively by using visual cues.

How to Get on the Same Planet

OK, so a blind or visually-impaired person – with the obvious  white cane or guide dog – has just entered your store. What do you think you would do?

a)      Greet them naturally, in a friendly tone as you would any other customer?

b)      Find out if they require assistance and in what way you can help?

c)      Offer sound advice and more information to help them decide on a purchase?

Yes, these are all correct ways to care for your customers.

Just like sighted shoppers, blind and visually-impaired people arrive in your store with exactly the same expectations – and that is, to have a positive retail experience.

So, having established that we are actually all on the same planet, sharing more in common than you may have considered previously, there are 5 things you can do to boost your popularity even more in the eyes of your blind customers.

5 Tricks of the Trade

1: Ask if you can assist.

This may sound obvious but it truly helps relieve anxiety when you use a friendly approach and are clear with your communication.

Make sure, however, that you don’t suddenly spring up from behind a clothing rack or nod your head from behind a counter. We need to know there is a person waiting to listen to our request or hear you coming before you arrive at our side.  

2: No Grabbing Allowed!

When you inquire further about the best way to show them around the store, for example by asking if they would like to follow you or if they prefer tactile assistance, give your customer with low vision time to show you their preference.

Not everyone uses the same method and you certainly don’t want to clutch at them like a handbag.

You must also resist the urge to grab their white cane to lead the way through a narrow gap – this is the equivalent of removing your customer’s glasses without their permission. It is extremely upsetting for the person with low vision when people do this. If this happens to me, I let go of the cane and then they realize they are holding it!

Better to read up on the ‘sighted guide practices’ and spread the word to other staff in your store.

3: No Patting a Guide Dog – ever.

Yes, guide dogs are adorable but they are also on duty. You wouldn’t go up to pat a policeman’s dog, so remember that both are doing a service for their handlers.

Ignoring a guide dog when in harness helps your customer to retain their dog’s attention. Even though you may think the dog is not doing anything, it is actually waiting for its next command.

Also, a guide dog is always on the left hand side of their owner so whenever you are walking with the person, you need to be on their right hand side.

4: Speak naturally.

The shopper with low vision may require to see things through your eyes such as reading price tags and clothing sizes. A subtle tone is appreciated and there is no need to raise your voice, because the majority of blind and visually-impaired people are not deaf as well.

5: Don’t hover unnecessarily.

If your blind customer says they are happy to continue browsing, allow them this pleasure. They have their ways and techniques and often they like to casually feel items.

Not all touching demonstrates an urge to buy; it may simply be prompted by a desire to know what is available in the retail world.

Do these 5 things the next time a person with low vision shops in your retail store and not only will you feel your popularity soar to new heights but your confidence in knowing the tricks of the ‘blind trade’ will put you a clear cut above the rest.

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