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Exploring the Importance of Ecommerce Website Accessibility

Website accessibility should be a priority when building your online store. Fail to implement accepted accessibility standards, and you risk facing legal, ethical and financial implications. Join Edward Matthews, Front End Web Developer at Swanky, as he explains more about why ecommerce website accessibility is so important.

Written By
Edward Matthews

With an estimated 15% of people worldwide experiencing some form of disability, the importance of having an accessible website for all can hardly be overstated.1 Yet, a WebAIM report in February 2022 found that, of the top 1,000,000 websites, a staggering 96.8% failed to conform to accessibility standards.2

In this article, I’ll explore the implications of failing to meet those standards and why accessibility should be at the forefront of your mind when building anything for the web, especially an ecommerce store.

Why is ecommerce website accessibility important?

Improved UX for all

An ecommerce store that doesn’t meet accessibility guidelines is akin to having a brick and mortar shop with steps up to the door – an inconvenience for many and a total barrier to entry to some.

Low-contrast text that forces users to squint is annoying for every potential customer and makes the content entirely unreadable for those with visual impairments. Confusing language or a difficult-to-understand navigation can be frustrating for any new user, but becomes unusably complex to users with cognitive disabilities. Small buttons and links can be very awkward to tap accurately for a mobile device user, but even more so for a user with motor issues.

By prioritising ecommerce website accessibility at the earliest stages of design, not only are you opening your store up to a broader audience, but you’re also reducing pain points for every user. This is important for reducing bounces and increasing conversions, not to mention boosting customer satisfaction and encouraging return visits.

Ethically speaking

“It’s too time-consuming and expensive.”

“We don’t have many users who need it.”

“We’ll add it later.”

These are just a few of the reasons commonly put forth for not prioritising ecommerce website accessibility. As a retailer though, you have a moral duty to ensure that all potential shoppers can access your online store. Providing an inclusive shopping experience is simply the ethical thing to do.

Putting it off until a later date or dismissing it as something that’s not important can signal a lack of empathy to consumers. At a time when customers are increasingly only giving their support to brands that conform to their own ethical principles, a failure in this area of corporate social responsibility could damage your brand’s reputation and undo a lot of the good work done in other areas, such as using responsibly sourced materials or charitable giving.

It’s the law

Whilst in an ideal world web accessibility would be solely driven by a genuine moral aspiration to remove any potential barriers for customers, there are legal requirements that you’ll need to comply with as well.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. They were created with the aim of providing a universal shared standard for web content accessibility. You can think of WCAG as the “gold standard” for website accessibility, no matter where in the world your business is based.

In the UK, the law sets a clear accessibility threshold for public sector websites: aligning with the WCAG 2.1 standard at level AA. Whilst the same regulations have not been outlined for commercial websites, it is widely accepted that companies should aim for the same WCAG level.

According to the European Union’s Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications, member states must make sure their websites meet common accessibility standards. The standards reflect the four principles of WCAG 2.1, stating that websites must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

In the US, whilst there are no specific laws regarding commercial website accessibility, and compliance with the WCAG guidelines is not written into law, this area is covered under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Title III.

A growing “cottage industry” is emerging in the US, where accessibility auditing tools are run against hundreds or thousands of websites at a time until one is found in breach of the country’s relevant legal codes and a ADA Title III lawsuit is subsequently filed. Businesses of any size could be targeted and made to pay damages.

By providing an accessible experience for all, you not only reduce the chances of a case being filed against you in the first place, but greatly improve the chances of winning any case that may come up.

You can read more about the law on website accessibility in this helpful article.

SEO impact

While passing an accessibility audit doesn’t directly impact search ranking, many attributes tested by an audit (such as heading structure, alt text on images and meaningful link text) are also factors considered by Google and other search engines when calculating page rank.

Some experts believe that accessibility one day soon will become an important factor in determining page ranking, so there is no time like the present to ensure your site is up to current standards.3

Avoid leaving money on the table

If 15% of users can’t read the content on your website, navigate around it, or click the “Add to Cart” button, there is money being left on the table.

In the UK alone, the combined spending power of disabled online shoppers, often referred to as “the Purple Pound”, was estimated at £17.1 billion in 2020 – a figure that is expected to continue growing.

By providing a pleasant, accessible experience for your customers, you are likely to be several steps ahead of any competitors and attracting customers who have largely been forgotten or ignored.

On the other hand, disabled users attempting to use a website with no regard for accessibility standards are likely to leave and never return. Any marketing efforts are likely to be dismissed by these users who are “once bitten; twice shy” and unwilling to go through the frustration again of using a website that wasn’t designed with them in mind.

How Swanky incorporates ecommerce website accessibility into our design and development processes

Here are a few of the things our design and development team focus on when incorporating accessibility into our Shopify store builds:

  • Ensuring all colours meet relevant WCAG standards of contrast and advising clients on this as part of our discovery project phase.
  • Making sure all fonts meet web accessibility standards.
  • Implementing keyboard navigation and focus styles for all interactive elements across ecommerce websites.
  • Accommodating prefers-reduced-motion to minimise the amount of non-essential motion in animations.
  • Reducing hover-only content – or providing alternate access to this content via a button/link that allows users to open and close it.
  • Implementing skip links, which streamline navigation for keyboard-only users by allowing them to jump over repetitive content.
  • Ensuring markup is semantic and heading elements are used correctly, in the right order.

Conclusion

No-one sets out with the intention of building web experiences that are deliberately inaccessible; it is thoughtlessness, rather, that has brought the state of the web to where it is.

While the best case scenario would be an ecommerce store built from the ground up with all users’ needs considered, it’s never too late to improve what you already have.

To that end, I’d encourage you to read and learn more about accessibility and experiment with some of the tools that can simulate navigating the web as so many disabled users do. The Swanky blog has some top tips on how to make your ecommerce website more accessible, put together by our Lead QA Engineer and accessibility advocate, Zoe Jarrett.

If you’re serious about building an accessible ecommerce store, demand the best of those building it: your designers, developers, agency or yourself.

Your ecommerce development agency

If you’re looking for an ecommerce development agency to bring your D2C or B2B vision to life, then contact our team of Shopify Plus Experts today. Our clients trust us to navigate their most complex requirements with expert technical consultancy and cutting-edge ecommerce solutions.

 

For reference:

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health

[2] https://webaim.org/projects/million/#wcag

[3] https://www.searchenginejournal.com/not-a-search-ranking-factor/ 

[4] https://wearepurple.org.uk/the-purple-pound-infographic/ 

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