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Brands Are Losing Billions by Not Being Digitally Accessible

Dec 5, 2019

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes the duty of brick-and-mortar outlets very clear. People with hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive disabilities must be able to patronize businesses and enjoy their services to the fullest extent possible — without being subject to discrimination based on their disability.

What many organizations still don’t know, however, is the responsibility that they have in the digital space. It’s becoming increasingly clear, through cases such as the Domino’s Pizza lawsuit, that a company’s websites and mobile apps need to be just as accessible to people with disabilities as its physical location.

Yet not every business has caught up with the times — and as a result, they’re leaving huge sums of money on the table. Not only is digital accessibility the right thing to do from a legal and moral standpoint, it also makes sense economically.

Here's how companies are losing incredible amounts of revenue by not being digitally accessible, and how you can avoid this for your own business.

Digital Accessibility and E-Commerce

The growth of e-commerce has been one of the biggest internet success stories of the last few years. Market research firm eMarketer projects that U.S. retail e-commerce sales will more than double from $450 billion in 2017 to $970 billion in 2023. E-commerce now represents 11% of total U.S. retail sales, expected to grow to 16% in 2023.

Just like physical outlets, e-commerce sites need to be accessible in order to adequately service customers with a disability.

To measure the impact of lost e-commerce business due to insufficiently accessible websites, the United Kingdom’s Click-Away Pound survey asks people with disabilities about their online shopping experiences.

According to the 2016 survey, more than 4 million people in the UK have abandoned a retail website due to accessibility barriers. This figure is substantial — especially when you consider that there are 14 million people in the UK with disabilities, and 6.1 million with a disability affecting their use of the internet.

The survey also finds that customers who leave a website due to accessibility challenges have an estimated spending power of £11.75 billion ($15.38 billion USD). This represents roughly 10% of the UK’s entire annual spending on e-commerce.

Businesses may be entirely unaware that they’re losing revenue from potential customers with disabilities. According to the survey, more than 90% of customers who experience accessibility challenges don’t reach out to the business running the website.

The Click-Away Pound survey is concerned only with UK consumers, but the situation is very similar across the pond in the U.S.

A study from the American Institutes for Research estimates that as a group, Americans with disabilities have disposable income of $490 billion and discretionary income of $20 billion. The study notes that these figures are very similar to other significant customer segments that are highly desirable for marketers.

Unfortunately, like the UK, too many U.S. e-commerce websites are also failing to meet the needs of shoppers with disabilities.

In a 2019 study, Nucleus Research found that more than 70% of websites, including e-commerce sites, have “critical accessibility blockers” that render them unusable by many people with disabilities. The study also estimates that U.S. e-commerce retailers may be losing up to $6.9 billion annually to their competitors with more accessible websites.

What’s more, the effects of these accessibility challenges extend beyond the immediate loss of revenue. In the UK, for example, families who have at least one member with a disability represent a combined spending power of £249 billion ($326 billion USD).

If your business earns a poor reputation among shoppers with disabilities, news can spread quickly among their friends and family, which will negatively affect your brand as a whole.

How to Ensure Digital Accessibility for Customers with Disabilities

Given these billions of dollars in lost revenue, how can e-commerce retailers adopt an accessibility mindset and cater to customers with disabilities?

The good news is that digital accessibility doesn’t have to be difficult. Popular, widely-accepted web accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline exactly how websites can meet the needs of users with disabilities.

While there are a great many factors involved with accessibility for e-commerce websites, here are some key areas for e-commerce sites to pay attention to:

  • Checkout: Imagine the frustration for a user who gets items in their cart, has entered their information, and can't submit because something at the very end isn't accessible.
  • Form fields: All form fields (like shipping and payment information) need proper labels and error messaging.
  • Color schemes: Anyone can check their website's color contrast with free tools such as the a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator.
  • Alt text: Product images (and all relevant non-text content) should have strong, accurate alt text that describes the content of each image.
  • Mobile shoppers: The percentage of e-commerce purchases on mobile devices is growing, so desktop and mobile versions of a site need to be thoroughly tested for accessibility.

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