If you do business online, accessibility matters — and if you operate an eCommerce storefront, accessible design is a powerful tool for growth.
Your goal is to expand your audience and provide customers with a seamless experience. Following the principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help you reach those goals. Those principles are also crucial for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the European Accessibility Act (EAA), and other non-discrimination laws.
Below, we’ll explore how accessibility is impacting eCommerce and provide tips for developing an accessible design strategy.
1. The top eCommerce brands are embracing WCAG.
A February 2022 study published in PeerJ Computer Science analyzed 50 high-performing eCommerce websites. The authors found that 55% of the websites were conformant with the Level AA criteria of WCAG 2.1.
That’s a fairly high percentage of conformance when compared to the internet as a whole: WebAIM’s 2023 analysis of the internet’s top 1 million websites found that 96.3% of websites had detectable WCAG failures.
The PeerJ Computer Science study also identified the 10 most accessible websites. Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, IKEA, H&M Hennes, Chewy, Kroger, QVC, and Nike met most WCAG 2.1 Level AA criteria.
For those corporations, accessibility is a priority. Unfortunately, that’s not the case other players in the global digital marketplace — and brands that ignore customers with disabilities take substantial risks.
2. eCommerce websites remain popular targets for ADA lawsuits.
In 2022, eCommerce websites were far more likely to encounter lawsuits filed under Title III of the ADA or California’s Unruh Act.
There are a few reasons for this trend. For starters, eCommerce websites tend to contain complex elements, so they’re more likely to have accessibility issues. As WebAIM notes in their 2023 Million report, websites categorized as “shopping" sites are roughly 43.2% less accessible than average when compared with other categories of content.
And when visiting an eCommerce website, customers who use assistive technologies (AT) can quickly determine whether the content is accessible. Certain barriers may prevent users from completing their orders with screen readers and other AT.
In those cases, courts may reasonably determine that the content violates non-discrimination laws. There are plenty of precedents, including Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, arguably the most infamous web accessibility lawsuit.
3. Most common eCommerce accessibility barriers can be remediated easily.
Of course, no eCommerce website wants to turn away customers (or defend against an ADA compliance lawsuit). The good news: Web accessibility isn’t necessarily expensive, and it’s always a sound investment.
Many of the most common accessibility barriers can be fixed easily with thoughtful content creation:
- Add accurate alternative text (also called “alt text") to images to accommodate customers who can’t perceive visual content.
- Remove redundant hyperlinks and use descriptive link text.
- Write accurate page titles and subheadings.
- Make thoughtful design decisions that prioritize consistency and simplicity.
- Limit the number of choices on each page to streamline checkouts and other processes.
- Provide plenty of information about each product and make sure that the information is available to AT users.
These aren’t difficult techniques, particularly when you prioritize accessibility when building your content. By taking a few seconds to think about your users, you can provide a much better experience — and avoid spending dozens of hours on remediation.
Building a Strategy for Digital Accessibility Compliance
If you’re new to the concepts of accessibility, we recommend reading about the four principles of WCAG: Content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Those principles can be invaluable when designing your eStore.
You’ll also need to publish an accessibility statement and audit your content against WCAG Level AA success criteria. The best practice is to use a hybrid testing approach that combines automated checks with manual review.
An accessibility partner can help you develop a testing strategy, remediate issues, and adopt the principles of inclusive design — and when you have a sustainable, long-term approach, you’ll enjoy the substantial business benefits of web accessibility.