Online shopping has grown at an astounding rate during the COVID pandemic. ECommerce is up 44% from 2019, accounting for as much as 20% of all sales in 2020. But 2020 wreaked havoc on the retail sector when COVID hit in early spring, so every sale this holiday season will be vital to making up lost revenue. That means reaching every customer. One way to do that is to make sure your eCommerce platform is accessible to every shopper, including those who use assistive technology. That includes people with disabilities and adults who have developed decreased vision or hearing as they age. As the holiday season heats up, retailers know that eCommerce accessibility will become even more important to driving business.
In-Person Shoppers Need Digital Accessibility
Websites help visitors plan their trips to the store if they prefer to shop in person. To make trips as enjoyable and productive yet succinct as possible, shoppers look up store hours, whether the store is open to shop in (as opposed to curb-side pickup or online shopping only), whether the store carries products they’re interested in, and whether the specific item they want is actually available in the store. Shoppers with mobility concerns and compromised immune systems who want to plan their few trips carefully will find this especially important. Courts held in the past that websites that impact instore products and services are required to comply with the ADA- they must be accessible to everyone, or you could face litigation.
eCommerce Accessibility- the key to Holiday Success
This season’s success will hinge on eCommerce. If your store is exclusively online, there’s still plenty of motivation to make it accessible. Some courts have applied ADA requirements to online-only businesses, and even if they don’t you could be leaving substantial money on the table if your website isn’t accessible.
Does eCommerce accessibility actually impact my bottom line?
Shoppers with disabilities may have a more difficult time getting to the store and may be more likely to have a compromised immune system. If they weren’t already shopping online, they’re almost certainly doing so now. Shoppers with disabilities also have a combined disposable income of $490 billion, nearly as much as any other minority group. Optimizing your website for every visitor could be the key to getting the economy back on its feet during this holiday season.
eCommerce Accessibility Helps Aging Shoppers- and They’re Spending Money
It’s not just people who were born without vision or hearing or experience serious and complete disabilities who benefit from more eCommerce Accessibility. As the Boomer generation ages, it increasingly becomes a financial force to be reckoned with. Boomers are the wealthiest generation in history, and as they age they will continue to experience disabilities. Eighty-five percent of Boomers use the internet, and as many shop online. Considering the fact that 70% of American’s disposable income is controlled by Boomers, retailers need to accommodate the increasing accessibility needs of this group. The Boomer generation, who may need and use accommodations to more easily access the internet, might not identify as disabled, so they are in addition to the nearly 25% of the US population who are disabled.
The Basics of eCommerce Accessibility
Visually, you should make your website as easy to read and view as possible for everyone, whether they have low vision, no vision, are colorblind, or are in a bright or dim environment. You can do that by using large text (14 point), and using highly-contrasted colors. For example, you wouldn’t want hot pink text against a red background. Make sure elements aren’t distorted when they’re enlarged. Many people want to see a close-up of a product when they’re shopping on their phones even if they don’t have disabilities. Having images that become distorted and bump into other page elements when magnified is inconvenient and distracting for everyone. Keep backgrounds simple- having busy images in the background makes important material more difficult to read.
Make sure you include an accessibility statement. Let all customers know their needs are important to you and how you’re working to meet those needs. Include accessible contact options so customers can tell you if they aren’t able to access a part of your website.
Make sure every image- especially product images- are described fully. For people who have no vision or low vision, it’s essential that stores provide complete descriptions of their product offerings so that people with disabilities have as close to the same experience as those without disabilities as possible when shopping.
For example, a fashion-forward woman with low vision knows that many of her favorite Instagram influencers are wearing oversized camel-colored turtlenecks this season over pleather leggings with ankle boots. She tries a few different sites to find a sweater like that. One website had lots of items in the “sweaters” category, but none of the product images had alt text. The description below the image just had snappy names for the sweaters, like “the Judy sweater” and “the Oslo tunic” which didn’t actually describe the sweater. On another website, the alt text for each sweater only read “sweater”. She had no idea if they were all the same sweater or how they were different. Yet another website identified brown sweaters, but not the shade of brown- tan, taupe, camel?- or the cut- fitted? Tunic? Dolman sleeve? Cropped?- or the neckline- scoop? Bateau? Cowl? Turtleneck?
By the fourth website, she had finally found a sweater that matched the description of what she wanted. It took searching through four different websites to finally find one that gave her the information a sighted person would have gotten from the first one. This is what discrimination looks like. Not only that, the first three websites likely missed a sale because she couldn’t tell if they had what she wanted.
Tag navigational links and buttons so visitors know where they lead. While it might look nice to use an image as a navigational element like a button, if it isn’t tagged and labeled as a navigational feature (“click here to view sweaters” or “sweaters this way!”) an assistive technology user will only find an element that reads, “image.”
Your eCommerce platform also needs to allow users to navigate using their keyboard, not just a mouse. This is helpful for people using assistive technology as well as people with dexterity concerns.
Links also need to tell users where they’re going. Perhaps an eCommerce store features full outfits with links to each different item. If the full URLs are just listed under the image assistive technology would read the entire URL, which can be long and not make much sense, and not tell the reader where they’re going. Instead, link descriptive text to the destination URL. And make sure the links actually work… no one likes getting an “error: 404” message when they’re trying to shop.
This is by no means a complete list… the best way to make your website accessible to every shopper is to conform your website to WCAG guidelines.
Don’t forget your checkout process! Tag every field and make it fillable. How frustrated would you be if you had spent time carefully choosing lots of well-described items as gifts, placed them in your digital shopping basket, and gotten your credit card information ready only to discover that you weren’t able to complete the checkout process? Let users know what fields are mandatory, which are optional, and which the user may have unintentionally skipped so they don’t just get an error message when they can’t complete the process without knowing how to fix it. Make sure users can close any error pop-ups using the keyboard. Otherwise, they could get stuck in the pop-up without a way to return to the checkout page and you’ll lose the sale.
Rethink how you scan for spam-bots. While reCaptcha can help filter out potential spam-bots, it can also be completely inaccessible for people using assistive technology to access your site. Find a more accessible CAPTCHA approach, such as a Honeypot.
Optimize for mobile
62% of smartphone users have shopped online in the past six months (that’s a stat from 2019, so numbers are likely higher now). 86% of screen reader users use a smartphone to access the internet, preferring it over desktop and tablet devices. People with disabilities, many of whom are screen-reader users, make up 10% of all online sales in addition to those who are aging and might not identify as disabled. So while you might have a flawless website for those shopping on a laptop, if you don’t check the mobile view a big part of your audience might have a hard time finding items and completing purchases. An inaccessible mobile site might prevent them from checking out entirely.
More shoppers= More sales
The more people who can access your website, successfully locate and select products, and complete the checkout process, the better your holiday sales will be. Give every visitor access to the same information about each product. Present product info in different ways so every shopper can learn about products. Give every shopper the opportunity to pay you by making the checkout process easy and accessible. More importantly, show your customers their needs are important. Customers who feel valued become loyal customers who will shop with you all year long.
Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”