How To Make E-Commerce More Accessible | BoF Professional, News and Insights
Right now, brands and retailers are investing money in their ecommerce business as they respond to the rising tide of shoppers looking to buy from them online. Yet many interested customers may still find it difficult, if not impossible, to shop at these sites.
People with conditions such as blindness and low vision, limited use of their hands, or certain cognitive problems may be prohibited from making purchases in a substantial part of e-commerce. A study of the e-commerce channels of 33 well-known retailers found that 31 had accessibility issues.
“Very few e-commerce sites are fully accessible,” said Rob Russell, senior user experience auditor and accessibility expert at the Baymard Institute, the research group that conducted the study. “The vast majority, 90% or more, have at least some parts of their sites that are inaccessible and make it difficult for users to navigate the site, find and rate product information, or complete the checkout process. “
This is because many companies ignore the user experience of buyers with disabilities, who may use assistive technologies such as screen readers or rely on their keyboard instead of a mouse or laptop. trackpad to move online.
Very few e-commerce sites are fully accessible.
It is true that solving these problems can be expensive and time consuming. But failure to respond can put companies at risk of prosecution, and they can also miss sales to a large group of potential customers – some 36 million worldwide in blindness alone, a number that is expected to increase. with the aging of the population. One estimate found that UK retailers were losing billions in sales by not making their sites accessible.
“Why limit yourself to the public and to customers who do not have a disability? Said Lucy Grego, who is blind and is the Web Accessibility Evangelist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Information shouldn’t be just visual
There are a number of issues companies should keep in mind when making their sites accessible.
Retailers often rely on photos to convey much of a product’s information, which in itself is not a problem. This becomes a problem when these photos are not accompanied by detailed descriptions in their alternative, or alt text, which is the field accompanying a photo on the back of a web platform available to describe the content of the image. Screen readers can read this text, allowing users who rely on means other than vision to know what is represented in an image, but this is only useful if it is descriptive.
“I probably spend more time than most people reading reviews and different things and researching just because everyone can see this image of the product,” said Chris Danielsen, Federation public relations director. national blind.
I probably spend more time than most people reading reviews and different things and researching just because everyone can see this product image.
Businesses should also add alt text for any other information embedded as an image. A retailer can add a size chart as an image, but no alt text with the information displayed, or a banner promoting a sale that does not have alt text with dates and details.
Accurate labels for buttons and form fields where users enter information is also crucial. A screen reader should be able to identify labels, and the purpose of each item should be clear.
“When there are multiple colors of a certain item, 99% of the time I should say it’s not labeled correctly,” Greco said. “It’ll show you black, blue, green, and orange, and all I get is ‘button, button, button, button.'”
Consider different ways to navigate your site
Retailers should remember that not all shoppers interact with their sites using a mouse or trackpad. Many people with sight or motor skills use their keyboard.
“I was talking to a blind friend of mine a few weeks ago and she was almost in tears because she had identified the product she wanted, she had filled in all the information she was supposed to, but then when she went to press submit, the button just didn’t work because she was using the ‘enter’ button on her keyboard and not the mouse, ”Danielsen said.
A site doesn’t have to be completely non-functional on a keyboard to be a problem. Take the primary navigation on a page, usually on the top or left, which is apparently there to make it easier for buyers to navigate a site. It can include a large number of links that keyboard users have to go through to get to the main content of the page, and every time they go to a new page, they have to repeat this process. Sites with this type of navigation should add what is called a jump link to allow users to jump directly to the main content area of a page.
Tooltips, which are messages that can appear when a user hovers over a graphical element with the cursor, are also meant to be helpful. A user on a keyboard, however, will need to tab over this item. “In some cases, there is no alternative to this mouse-over state,” Russell said, and keyboard users “cannot access this information.”
Accessibility is in the details
Many other problems can arise. The legal jargon used for the terms and conditions can be difficult for buyers with dementia to understand. Hyper text is often highlighted, but this can reduce its contrast with the page behind it, making it unreadable to visually impaired users. Retailers can solve these problems by ensuring that the language is clear and easy to understand, and that all text has sufficient contrast against its background.
Danielsen and Greco both noted that properly used HTML headers are important in making a site easier to navigate and that retailers should consider their checkout process, which can have its own hurdles.
“It’s another one that we see frequently,” Russel said. “Someone may be checking out and entering the credit card number incorrectly. There is an online validation that starts as soon as the user leaves this field which informs them that there is an error. But you have to make sure that the information is displayed very prominently and then make sure that it is also transmitted through a screen reader if someone is using it.
How to take the first step towards accessibility
These problems are not always easy to solve. Gina Bibby, a partner at the law firm Withers Bergman and responsible for its fashion technology practice, said she represents several clients who have been the subject of lawsuits alleging that their e-commerce sites or apps were unsuccessful. not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most companies in this role will hire an auditor to identify issues. The work is often continuous as the sites are constantly updated with new products and content. Tommy Hilfiger, for example, says that a third-party company regularly tests its site.
“There is a significant amount of work to be done,” Bibby said of the process of restoring a site. “There is a great commitment of money and a great commitment of IT resources. “
For small businesses, this can be a challenge. Often brands and retailers also did not consider the issue until threatened with legal action. “I think it’s a lack of education,” Bibby said.
Greco gave his own recommendation for those looking to make their sites more accessible. “The easiest way to make sure things work really well is to hire a person with a disability,” she said. “Ask a real user to validate for you that this is working. This is a point companies should remember when they also organize focus groups.
The easiest way to make sure things work really well is to hire someone with a disability.
One point that many agree is that making a site accessible is good for all users. Good alt text on images allows for better search engine optimization, as web crawlers use this metadata in their rankings, and a simple, clean, and logically structured site with good product descriptions will be easier to use. for whoever walks it.
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