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Feature image A Guide to eCommerce and Web Accessibility

Today, almost every consumer shops online. With COVID-19, that trend has accelerated tremendously. But not every consumer is the same. Many have different needs that must be accommodated before they can confidently and conveniently use your site.

Inclusion & Humanity UK estimates that there are over 1 billion people with disabilities on the planet, meaning up to 15% of the world’s population might need assistance using your eCommerce site. That’s a lot of potential business that could be lost if users can’t use your site or feel that navigating it is too inconvenient for them. Many might simply switch to a web store that abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommendations and accommodates disabilities, a requirement that may now lead to lawsuits if not followed.

Fortunately, web accessibility in eCommerce is not immensely different from other ADA-compliance types on other kinds of websites. What it does do, however, is fine-tune your eCommerce website for a better conversion rate, making it exponentially more user-friendly and accessible to all regardless of disability.

What does web accessibility look like in eCommerce?

The goal is to make your eCommerce site “meaningfully accessible” to all your potential shoppers. For example, a retailer might offer a version of their site with enhanced visuals to make their sight compatible with screen-reading devices. It could also mean eliminating sudden flashes, for example, to advertise a ‘flash’ sale, for those who suffer from seizures.

A particular difficulty that some disabled users experience is when prices are displayed with a strikethrough, indicating that they are discounted (i.e., $59.99 $39.99). From a user-accessibility perspective, special attention needs to be given to the underlying code to make this accessible for all users. Otherwise, the two prices will be announced by screen readers with no indication that one is crossed out and is, therefore, cheaper or inactive.

Shopify store owners can conveniently solve many of these issues by installing UserWay’s AI-Powered Accessibility Widget directly from the Shopify app store.

An online retailer wouldn’t think twice about having different versions of their eCommerce site accessible in different languages, so why not accommodate versions for those with disabilities as well?

Why is web accessibility important for eCommerce websites?

Web accessibility is critical for eCommerce websites. It not only gives you a much bigger customer base, but it’s also the ethical thing to do. According to the US Census Bureau, 12.6% of all Americans and upwards of one billion people across the globe are disabled in some way. That means 40.6 million Americans are considered disabled by the US Government. It’s only right that they have the same access to the digital world as everyone else.

From the viewpoint of an eCommerce retailer, if a customer is struggling to buy products from your website, this could be the point where your customers simply give up and move to another website. But from the perspective of a disabled user, it could also mean annoyance, frustration, anger, and even disaffection with your brand or product. They might not come back. This shows just how crucial it is to have a website and user interface (UI) that is accessible, simply put: it helps to boost your conversion rates.

What’s more, having a website that’s accessible decreases your website’s bounce rate, i.e., the likelihood of consumers leaving your site. It instead propels them towards completing the purchase. Not all websites are ADA-compliant, meaning that if you have a disabled customer who really feels that your eCommerce site has gone above and beyond regarding digital accessibility, it’s likely that they’ll come back. This is because you’ve taken their needs into account and provided a service that not everyone offers.

From a business perspective as well, not offering accessible options could mean being sued for not being compliant with the ADA. What’s more, lawsuits of this kind have only been increasing. A study from UsableNet found the number of digital accessibility cases in 2020 were 3,503. That’s a 21.2% increase from 2,890 in 2019. The report also stipulated that 77.6% of those lawsuits were against online retailers. Usually, the costs of such a lawsuit can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This happened to online retailer Spiceology.com. The company was faced with an ADA related lawsuit in late 2020 just a few months before it planned to finish making its site fully ADA-compliant.

A good way to make users stay longer and decrease your site’s bounce rate is by installing UserWay’s AI-Powered Digital Accessibility Widget. Our automated remediations make sure that websites can be accessed by all.

Common accessibility mistakes for eCommerce

It isn’t easy to make your website fully accessible. As well, what constitutes an accessible website isn’t easily defined. The US Government does not even have their own guidelines, even though the law clearly states websites must be ‘accessible for all’ by its own decree. The most reliable guidelines that are available are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Because compliance isn’t easy and because concretely explained US Government guidelines don’t exist, mistakes are common. Below are some of the mistakes most commonly made by  eCommerce retailers, found by Practical eCommerce in 2016. The site used a web accessibility checker to search for common mistakes and collated some of the most frequent ones. What’s surprising is that some of them were made by very large companies with whole IT departments working on their sites. If mistakes can be made there, they can be made by anyone. Although it’s worth bearing in mind that these mistakes were found in 2016, and subsequent versions of their sites will likely have been changed to follow the law.

Here’s a brief overview of the most common mistakes:

Missing alt text for images: Some users of the site might be blind or visually impaired, therefore they need alt-text to have the image explained to them instead.

Empty links: This issue occurs when a link has no text, making the purpose or function of the link unclear to the user. This is important for eCommerce sites specifically because it may mean users can’t find products or complete purchases.

Contrasted errors: A contrast error means certain people can’t read the text on your website. This is because sections of the site have errors where the ratio between the text color and the background color were less than 4.5:1. This sets up an obstacle for people who are visually impaired.

These are just a few common examples of websites being difficult to navigate for disabled users. They give a good indication of what kind of changes need to be made for your site to be fully ADA-compliant.

How to make your eCommerce website accessible.

Although making an eCommerce site compliant can be difficult, it’s not impossible. There are a few changes you can make right away that give you at least some safeguards.

Here are just a few examples you can make right away:

  • Include captions for your videos. This lets all users experience your videos, even if they are hearing impaired.
  • Offer text to accompany images. Use text to describe images on your site. For example, a download button might read ‘download content’ instead of having a download image.
  • Have audio describe pages. Have an audio button that can describe your page in full to the user, just like many news websites have audio recordings of articles.
  • Contrasting text. This is a simple one. Have a high level of contrast between your text and foreground so visually impaired users can read it easily.

All these options can be done cheaply and without a large degree of technical know-how. Plus, it makes it easier for your customers to access and use your site. However, other kinds of modifications require specialist technical know-how, which begins with conducting a compliance audit report. Consider using specialist help for more complex sites, and to access a greater depth of web accessibility.

Benefits of accessibility for eCommerce websites

There are numerous benefits to being compliant specifically for eCommerce.

eCommerce sites require a lot more functionality than ordinary sites. They need to be more intuitive, work seamlessly, and shoppers need to find the product they want and pay for it in a way that’s convenient for them.

Most websites that merely display information (like Wikipedia) or host a service (Netflix) don’t require the same kind of intuitiveness that eCommerce sites do. Making your site accessible is an excellent way to grow your traffic, increase sales, and make it reachable for all.

One of the biggest benefits is having the confidence you won’t get sued. 77.6% of all accessibility lawsuits in 2020 were online retailers. By getting your eCommerce site fully compliant with the law, you could save yourself potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As well, getting compliant is simply the ethical thing to do. Everyone should be able to enjoy the fruits of the internet.

How UserWay helps eCommerce websites.

UserWay’s AI-Powered Accessibility Widget handles all kinds of compliance issues for you. From back-end to front-end, ensuring full ADA and WCAG compliance is our standard.

With UserWay’s advanced technology, website owners can effortlessly reach compliance with WCAG 2.1, ADA, ATAG 2.0, EN 301-549 and Section 508 regulations, as required by US governmental and regulatory bodies.

It’s possible to make some aspects of your eCommerce site accessible yourself. UserWay allows you to skip the accessibility consultants and lengthy redevelopment process that follows by creating a fully automated solution. For full accessibility, simply install the UserWay AI-Powered Widget by embedding a short line of unique code* to your website; UserWay does the rest.

*See our video tutorials for help, if you need some.