3 Ways Online Retailers Can Improve the Shopping Experience for People With Disabilities
Online shopping is supposed to be all about speed and convenience. But for the 1.3 billion people globally who have a disability, accessibility issues can make it hard to browse e-commerce sites, compare products, or enter payment details.
Imagine trying to buy a jacket online without knowing crucial details about fit, color or pattern. Or fill out a checkout form without knowing what information to enter into each field.
For people with disabilities, accessibility barriers like this are a persistent challenge on e-commerce sites. AudioEye’s Digital Accessibility Index — which scanned nearly 40,000 enterprise sites to identify the most common accessibility issues — found that the retail industry performed below average in several key areas, including image and form accessibility.
Not only can these issues affect sales and customer loyalty, but they also expose retailers to the risk of legal action under laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Here’s a look at where e-commerce sites fall short on digital accessibility as well as tips to help you get ahead of the competition by providing an accessible experience to every potential customer.
Where Retailers Fall Short on Web Accessibility
Our scan of nearly 90,000 retail pages revealed a number of frequent accessibility issues, from missing image alternative text to forms and buttons that were not fully operable for disabled users.
Here are three areas where online retailers can improve the shopping experience for people with disabilities:
1. Provide a descriptive text alternative for all images.
For retailers, inaccessible images are among the most impactful and common accessibility issues. In the Digital Accessibility Index, 72.2 percent of retail pages had at least one inaccessible image, the third-highest rate among all industries scanned.
That’s a big problem for retailers, given that 75 percent of online shoppers rely on product photos to help them make purchase decisions.
If your images aren't accessible (i.e., they lack descriptive text alternatives for people who cannot perceive images visually), it can be difficult for non-sighted users to compare options, understand any product features highlighted in your images, or get a sense of your brand.
Fortunately, there are ways to help ensure that your image alt text paints a clear picture for every customer:
- Be descriptive: Write alt text descriptions like you’re describing an image over the phone to your friend. What key details would you be sure to include so they could get a clear picture of the image?
- Don’t bury the lede: Try to put critical information about an image at the beginning so people aren’t left wondering why you’re describing every minute detail.
2. Check your checkout process.
When it comes to checking out, disabled shoppers often face additional obstacles. As part of the Digital Accessibility Index, members of the disability community audited some of the world’s biggest retailers, focusing on key pages such as checkout screens.
On each site tested, they found several significant accessibility issues, such as:
- No audible announcement that an item was added to their cart, which can leave non-sighted shoppers unsure if an item was successfully added — or if they accidentally added multiple items to their cart.
- No alert when a checkout form was missing required information. Instead, the page refreshed without alerting non-sighted shoppers that something was wrong, leaving them unaware that the form wasn't submitted correctly.
- Dozens of buttons were not clearly labeled, which forced users to click through each button to figure out where it would take them — adding time and frustration to their shopping experience.
By having human experts audit key tasks and pages on your site, you can uncover accessibility issues that cannot be identified by automated scans alone, helping you deliver a more accessible, inclusive experience to every shopper.
3. Make site navigation a breeze.
For people with visual and cognitive impairments, non-descriptive links can make site navigation a challenge.
Screen reader users tend to browse sites using keyboard shortcuts to jump between links on a page. When these links aren't descriptive (e.g., a link that says “click here”), it forces screen reader users to slow down and read the surrounding text to get a sense of where clicking that link will take them.
In the Digital Accessibility Index, 68 percent of the retail pages scanned had at least one link that didn't clearly describe where it would take users, violating WCAG SC 2.4.4: Link Purpose (In Context).
You can improve the quality of your links — and make it easier for non-sighted shoppers to navigate your site — by following these simple tips for link accessibility:
- Use clear, concise language. For example, a link that reads “Click on this link to discover the latest best practices for writing alt text” can be shortened to “Discover the latest alt text best practices” without losing meaning.
- Avoid using vague or generic terms like “click here” or “learn more.”
- Use descriptive terms that accurately reflect the content of the page or section.
Making the Business Case for Web Accessibility
When we talk to customers and prospects about the benefits of accessibility, we often hit on three key points.
First, it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should have equal access to online goods and services, especially in an increasingly digital world.
Second, there’s an element of risk mitigation. The number of web accessibility lawsuits has skyrocketed in recent years, and the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly stated that nondiscrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also apply to the digital world.
And finally, accessibility is good business. Globally, people with disabilities control $13 trillion in disposable income, along with their friends and family. Retailers that prioritize accessibility have a chance to tap into this audience, driving sales and customer loyalty.
David Moradi is the CEO of AudioEye, the industry-leading enterprise SaaS accessibility company.
Related story: Common Mistakes to Avoid in Online Retail Accessibility
David Moradi is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor to numerous market-leading technology companies, and CEO of AudioEye (Nasdaq: AEYE). He is also a co-founder and executive chairman of virtual reality (VR) video game development studio First Contact Entertainment Inc and founder of Sero Capital, a private investment firm.