Online marketplaces have become increasingly popular since the mid-90s when retail juggernauts like Amazon initially burst onto the scene. And while it’s true that nearly everybody buys products in e-commerce stores these days, it’s crucial to understand that not all consumers have the same needs. 

Over one billion people have disabilities worldwide, meaning up to 15% of the global population may need assistive technology to use online shopping platforms. Addressing their needs is critical so they can confidently and conveniently shop for your products and services online. In short, e-commerce accessibility should be one of your highest business priorities.

So, how exactly does digital accessibility impact businesses? Read on for those answers next. Then you’ll learn the benefits of accessibility and helpful tips you can follow.

Accessible Online Store Platforms: No Longer Just a Choice

It’s easy to imagine how much business you can lose when people with disabilities struggle to use your site. At over one billion strong, they represent a significant demographic that any company should strive to capture. Moreover, these consumers can always choose another e-commerce store that largely conforms to ADA and WCAG accessibility guidelines.

According to the RespectAbility Report, over 70% of people with disabilities immediately abandon inaccessible websites. That’s a big chunk of revenue left on the table. It’s also a potential PR nightmare for any business. Consumers readily make their voices heard through social media outlets, review sites, and simple word-of-mouth communication. 

As the demand for inclusivity intensifies, so does the need to close online accessibility gaps. Yet, this is a tremendous opportunity to take a proactive instead of reactive approach. If you allocate your time and resources to build an accessible online store, you could avoid costly damage-control efforts or massive legal penalties for non-compliance. 

Lawsuits of this kind have only been increasing. A study from UsableNet found 3,503 digital accessibility cases in 2020, a whopping 21.2% increase from 2019. The report also stipulated that 77.6% of those lawsuits were against online retailers. Usually, the costs of such a lawsuit can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, as you’ll find out, taking the proper steps now can mitigate these risks and significantly enhance your online business. 

Now let’s learn more about the business advantages of accessible e-commerce stores

How Accessibility Benefits Online store platforms

Web accessibility is critical for eCommerce websites, ethically and fiscally. Over 40 million Americans have a disability and deserve the same access to e-commerce online shopping as everyone else. But there are also brand-image and financial upsides to embracing this strategy. 

Most people want their favorite brands to show they care about real-world issues. Taking a stand on these issues deepens the personal connection with socially conscious consumers, instilling trust and increasing brand loyalty. And socially conscious consumers comprise a substantial cross-section of society with formidable purchasing power (see the stats below).

  • Nearly 80% of Americans believe companies should prioritize profitability and altruism equally.
  • Over 60% want their favorite brands to make their voices heard about social issues.
  • Nearly 80% of people worldwide want to purchase from brands that align with their views.
  • 13% of Americans will pay 31-50% more for products or services if they believe the company is helping the world.  

In summary, increasing your site’s accessibility will help you meet compliance, which naturally fine-tunes your UX, decreasing bounce rates and increasing conversion rates. So it’s better for your business, better from a legal perspective, and the best approach to selling online.

E-commerce Stores: A Few Pointers on Design & Usability

The goal is to make your e-commerce platform accessible to people of all abilities. So, for example, you might enhance your site with a screen reader for people with color blindness or other visual impairments. 

Users with disabilities also struggle to understand strikethrough prices that indicate a discount (i.e., $59.99- $39.99). Otherwise, screen readers announce two prices without showing the one crossed out and cheaper or inactive. Pay special attention to the underlying code in these cases to ensure clarity and accessibility for all users. 

Shopify store owners can conveniently solve many of these issues by installing a third-party AI-Powered Widget. And numerous other online store builders can help most companies do the same. In addition, many online retailers provide different accessible versions of their e-Commerce sites in other languages, so why not accommodate those with disabilities? 

A  preventative approach is always best, and the following section explains some common pitfalls you can avoid or eliminate. 

Common Accessibility Errors for E-commerce Stores

Accessibility isn’t easily defined, so making your website accessible has inherent challenges. For example, the U.S. Government doesn’t provide related guidelines, even though the law clearly states websites must be accessible. Therefore, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most reliable.

This compliance ambiguity often leads to website errors. Below are some things Practical eCommerce found in 2016 that e-commerce retailers could have corrected. The site used a web accessibility checker to locate common mistakes and collated some of the most frequent ones. Surprisingly, large companies made errors, even with elaborate IT departments working on their sites. 

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

  • Missing alt text for images: Some site users might be blind or visually impaired. Therefore, they need alt-text to have the image explained to them instead.
  • Empty links: A link with text is clear to end users. That’s because you only have seconds to capture and retain your visitors’ attention. They’re more likely to leave your site if they can’t find products or complete purchases when they encounter an empty link.
  • Contrasted errors: A contrast error means certain people can’t read the text on your website. A lack of readability happens in website sections where the ratio between the text and the background color is less than 4.5:1. This creates an obstacle for visually impaired people.

5 Tips for eCommerce Website Accessibility

Making an eCommerce site compliant can be complex, but you can make changes immediately to help safeguard your company.  

Here are a few accessibility features you can integrate right away:

1. Include captions for your videos

Captions let all users experience your videos, even if they have hearing impairments.

2. 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.

3. Have audio description pages

Provide an audio button that thoroughly describes your page to end users, like many news websites with audio recordings of articles.

4. Contrasting text

Provide high contrast between your text and foreground so visually impaired users can read it easily.

5. Don’t let color alone decide your design

According to Color Blind Awareness, nearly 300 million people across the globe are color blind. So, a site that uses color as its primary UX (User Experience) element can be impossible for people with color blindness to understand and use. A good rule of thumb? Provide features that help end users distinguish between clickable links and informational text.   

You can implement these best practices cheaply and without much technical know-how. Plus, it makes it easier for your customers to access and use your site. However, other modifications require a specialist, which begins with conducting a compliance audit report. Consider using expert help for more complex websites and to access a greater depth of web accessibility.

UserWay: Your Go-To E-commerce Solution

An excellent way to make users stay longer and decrease bounce rates is by installing UserWay’s AI-Powered Digital Accessibility Widget. It automates remediations at an affordable price to ensure compliance and accessibility. In addition, this advanced technology is easy to implement and helps your dev team effortlessly reach compliance with WCAG 2.1, ADA, ATAG 2.0, EN 301-549, and Section 508 regulations.

Answers to Common FAQs

Why is Accessibility Crucial in eCommerce?

Web accessibility is critical for eCommerce websites. It not only gives you a much more significant customer base, but it’s also ethical. Unfortunately, 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.

Does the ADA Require Website Accessibility?

Yes, the ADA does mandate that all websites provide accessibility to people with disabilities. For details that apply to your business, review Title III, which forbids bias against people with disabilities in public-facing facilities and private organizations.  

Does The ADA Only Penalize Bigger Companies? 

The ADA will pursue and penalize all-sized companies for non-compliance. It doesn’t matter if you only employ five people. Your business could still be susceptible to costly legal battles if your site doesn’t comply with ADA guidelines. Smaller companies are often more vulnerable because they lack the human resources and budget to develop a compliant, accessible website.