trolley in supermarket aisle

A 2021 survey revealed a quarter of disabled people said changing layouts is an issue for them

One of the banes of my life as a disabled shopper is the long-standing supermarket practice of constantly moving products from shelf to shelf. Yes, I’m talking about resetting.

I’m a 63-year-old man who’s had multiple sclerosis (MS) for 30 years and who now has major walking problems. I can spend just 15 minutes standing. At my local supermarket I use my trolley as a sort of mobile Zimmer frame, effectively carrying me as well as my shopping.

To make my shopping trips as short as possible I make a list arranged in the order the goods are normally located, hoping to move from aisle to aisle ticking off each item as I put it in my trolley.

This is where resetting causes me problems. Products have been moved and aren’t where I expect them to be. To make matters worse I have to work out where the reset products have been placed, something that adds extra time to my shopping trip, often pushing me beyond the 15 minutes I can comfortably stand.

Tom Marsland, consumer affairs manager at disability equality charity Scope, says research shows I’m not alone, and that resetting is a problem for many other disabled shoppers: “A 2021 survey revealed a quarter of disabled people said changing layouts is an issue for them,” he says. “It makes shopping even tougher than it needs to be and could lead to exhaustion or confusion navigating the new aisle layout.” 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum, agrees. She says: “For some disabled customers, having to navigate changing store layouts and resetting of products can be distressing. Knowing the location of the items you regularly shop for makes it possible for people to shop independently.”

I have often been asked why I don’t use online shopping. I suppose the reason is I want to have the chance to shop like everyone else, to be able to choose meat with a long use-by date and select the nicest-looking fruit & veg. I also know from personal experience disability is an isolating experience and my short shopping trips are an opportunity to get out of the house and feel like I am still part of a world that I increasingly only engage with by looking out of my window at it.

I know many supermarkets have initiatives like assisted shops or autism hours and I support these, though I find they rather miss the point. I don’t want a “special shop” I just want a shop layout where I can independently, comfortably and predictably do my shopping – just like non-disabled shoppers do.

There are an estimated 14 million disabled people like me in the UK, and given that resetting is a problem that affects a quarter of us, there are more than three million disabled shoppers disadvantaged by resetting. Yes, supermarkets could potentially lose custom as a result of this practice.

So, even if you dismiss my individual moan, the economic rationale for abandoning resetting would seem obvious, a point Lightfoot highlights: “Meeting the needs of disabled customers isn’t just about ‘doing the right thing’, it’s good for business too. All customers are less likely to buy a product if they can’t find it or reach it. Some customers will simply show their dissatisfaction by taking their custom elsewhere.”

Sometimes I am very tempted to take my custom elsewhere. The problem is I have yet to find a supermarket that doesn’t use resetting as a way of putting profits before people, or putting profits before disabled people to be more precise. Shame on you, supermarket owners.