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Why does web accessibility matter for retail businesses?

Apr 18, 2019

Website accessibility is important in all industries, but every industry has some elements that make it unique. For companies in the retail industry, they should make sure to especially consider whether:

  • Their online presence is tied to a physical location.
  • Their e-commerce functions are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • They are maximizing SEO and website traffic through accessibility.
  • Their emails, social media, and landing pages are also accessible.
  • They are reaching every customer they could or excluding people because of the inaccessibility of their website or app.

Websites or apps that are tied to a physical location may have special accessibility considerations

The Department of Justice has reaffirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites and in plaintiff-favored rulings in digital accessibility lawsuits, the same has held true. While websites are being interpreted as places of public accommodation, it has at times been a point of contention as to exactly how that should apply to websites that are not associated with physical businesses. 

What has been made absolutely clear, however, is that the digital presence of any business that also has a physical presence must be accessible to people with disabilities. Any business this applies to should take extra precaution to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to learn about products online, take advantage of the latest sales and promos, complete purchases, contact the organization, and use all the features the website or app has to offer.

In a recent lawsuit focused on Beyonce's website, it is alleged that people with visual disabilities were unable to learn about the artist and her music, learn about tours, buy tickets, buy merchandise, or join the website to use all features — and that the denial of these goods and services is in violation of the rights afforded by the ADA.

E-commerce functions must be accessible

In order for everyone to have the ability to complete purchases and other transactions, every step in that process has to be accessible. If one part fails, the entire online shopping process fails.

While the entirety of an e-commerce site needs to be accessible, here are some areas for e-commerce sites to pay special 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.

Related: Online Shopping and ADA Compliance: What You Need to Know

Accessibility improves SEO

For retail businesses with an online presence, not much else noted in this article matters if people aren't finding the website in the first place. Despite the common myth that accessibility is a cost with little benefit, search engine optimization (SEO) best practices and accessibility best practices have a lot of overlap.

Images are a great example. Adding a text alternative to a product image, infographic, or other visually-displayed information is critical to accessibility because this is what allows assistive technologies like screen readers to understand and convey the content to the user. Similarly, search engines rely heavily on textual information to provide users the most relevant search results.

For more on the topic, check out Five Ways to Improve Your SEO with Web Accessibility.

Emails, social media, and landing pages must be accessible, too

Picture this: A company has created a beautiful and accessible website. All visitors, including people with disabilities, can find and enjoy all the great content the company worked so hard to build. The checkout process and all interactive features work wonderfully with assistive technology. Then, the company sends a promotional email to prospective customers that they hope will drive a ton of new traffic and build lifelong customers — but, the email wasn't tested for accessibility and doesn't allow people who use screen readers to select the button that takes them to the website. Those prospective customers were blocked from engaging and may be lost forever.

This all-too-common scenario serves to highlight that all branches of an organization's digital presence have to be accessible. If people can't get to the accessible content because of the inaccessibility of other content, that is a risk and one that needs to be resolved.

When customers can't access a company's resources, they can't do business with them

Some people believe the common myths that people with disabilities don't use computers, and some business owners believe that their customer base doesn't include people with disabilities. In addition to being incorrect and offensive, these misguided ideas cost them customers and negatively impact the bottom line — a missed opportunity to reach large segments of the population with significant buying power.

Here to help with retail accessibility audits

Your customers, partners, and supply chain rely on their experience to be seamless and fully accessible. We can help: get started with a retail accessibility audit or request a free website accessibility scan.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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