Despite massive growth in e-commerce, there’s at least one brick-and-mortar industry that’s standing strong: grocery retailers. According to the consumer goods research firm Packaged Facts, 85 percent of U.S. adults purchase food and beverages at supermarkets and grocery stores.
Even though people are still buying groceries in person, however, a good website remains a crucial part of any supermarket’s marketing strategy. Customers use supermarket websites for a variety of purposes: finding the closest location to their house, joining the loyalty program, checking the week’s discounts and coupons, ordering catering services, applying for jobs, and more.
Using a supermarket’s website is particularly important for people with disabilities, who may face challenges in performing daily activities and who need a reliable source of information. Many people with disabilities may even use these websites to shop for groceries online and have them delivered to their home. For these reasons, making supermarket websites accessible is becoming a growing concern for their owners and their users alike.
Why Supermarket Websites Must Be Accessible
In a landmark case last year, Florida judge Robert N. Scola Jr. ruled that the national grocery chain Winn-Dixie must comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for people with visual impairments. The plaintiff, a legally blind man who uses screen reader software to access the Internet, argued that the Winn-Dixie website was not accessible, which meant that he could not refill his prescriptions at the Winn-Dixie pharmacy or view the store hours.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability at “places of public accommodation,” which are certain types of private businesses that are open to the general public. The judge found that the company’s website constitutes a “gateway” to its physical store locations, and therefore had violated the ADA by failing to make it accessible. As a result of the lawsuit, Winn-Dixie has pledged to make its website into full compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the most widely used standards for web accessibility.
As the frequency of ADA lawsuits dramatically increases, however, the Winn-Dixie lawsuit is by no means the end of the road for supermarkets and web accessibility. Last December, a New York City lawyer filed ADA lawsuits against grocers Fairway Markets, Key Food, and Gristedes. In January of this year, the Morton Williams grocery chain was also sued for having an insufficiently accessible website; the case was dropped in March after reaching a settlement with the plaintiff.
The Benefits of Making Supermarket Websites More Accessible
Web accessibility is important for supermarkets not only to avoid the risk of lengthy and expensive legal proceedings—it’s also good business and the right thing to do. Building accessibility into your website allows you to assist as wide of an audience as possible and leapfrog ahead of your competitors. According to a 2013 British study of the country’s 5 largest supermarkets, for example, only one company’s website met the minimum requirements for accessibility.
Organizations such as the American Foundation for the Blind offer advice about accessible grocery shopping for people with visual impairments, in which they list several different options for online grocery shopping. If people with disabilities are unable to use your supermarket’s website, then they have a growing number of alternatives available, and they won’t hesitate to turn elsewhere if you can’t adequately serve them.
In order to better serve your customers and protect against legal risk, web accessibility must be a preeminent concern for any supermarket. Follow the BoIA blog for the latest news and updates about web accessibility, private businesses, and ADA lawsuits.