How online shops can become more accessible

Published on: Nov 2, 2022
Updated: Nov 24, 2022

More people are doing more of their shopping online than ever before. That means big opportunities for e-commerce retailers – but also more demand for accessible and inclusive online stores.

We take a look at what online accessibility means, why it matters, and how e-commerce stores can improve.


What does accessibility mean?

Digital accessibility means removing any barriers that may prevent someone from using a website, mobile app, or other digital technology. And because every web user is different, there’s a long list of potential barriers to overcome. Accessibility can include everything from design changes and more detailed product descriptions, to offering multiple languages and enhanced customer service.

In the UK alone, around 1 in 5 consumers have at least one disability. That’s 20% of your potential market. However, even though people with disabilities make up a significant part of the population, 65% of disabled consumers say that their shopping choices are still limited. An estimated 13 million UK shoppers face barriers to online shopping.

There’s a clear ethical case for making online stores more accessible. No business, online or offline, should discriminate against people with disabilities or access issues.

And retailers are increasingly waking up to the business case for accessibility, too.


The business case for accessibility

The “purple pound”, or consumer spending by individuals with disabilities, is worth around £247 billion each year – just in the UK. And there’s an additional £11.75 billion lost by UK retailers who fail to make their online stores more accessible. E-commerce retailers that ignore accessibility are failing to reach their full potential.

They’re also vulnerable to lawsuits. Over 80% of the top 500 online retailers have been served with a suit related to web accessibility in the past four years. As well as being time-consuming and expensive, legal action like this can be very damaging to retailer reputation.

Therefore, through your online store more accessible your brand could successfully reach the additional 20% of your potential target market. You’ll tap into more potential profits and avoid the risk of reputational damage.

But what is actually required to gain those benefits? What does e-commerce accessibility involve?


How online shops can become more accessible

The first thing you should know is that accessibility isn’t a one-off achievement. You’ll need to continually review and update your website and digital services, just in case something has stopped working or gone out of date.

Here are a few of the ways you can upgrade your e-commerce store to be more accessible:

  • Accessibility features, including design that supports people with visual impairments and compatibility with screen readers and text-to-speech. These are increasingly built into website designs, or available as add-on toolbars.

  • User-friendly design. This could include large print, simplified forms for users to fill out, and consistent design patterns. It makes the website easy to navigate both for people with disabilities and customers who might not be used to shopping online.

  • Language and country options. If you ship internationally, offer translated versions of your webpage and localized prices.

  • Product descriptions. 43% of consumers with disabilities say that they’ve abandoned a shopping task because a product didn’t have enough information about accessibility. If your products are disability-friendly, let people know about it!

  • Customer service. Offer customer service via multiple channels: email, chat, and phone calls. Customers can choose the communication method that’s easiest for them.

Some of these ideas are very quick and easy to implement. But even simple changes will put you ahead of the pack. Many e-commerce sites fail basic accessibility tests, and fashion retailers are particularly inaccessible.

When online retailers do embrace accessibility, they can make headlines. Boots made the news earlier this year when they became the first UK retailer to offer an assistive toolbar that included screen reading, reading aids, customizable styling options, text to speech, and translation into over 100 languages. The result: positive press and a big increase in potential profits.

Do you know how accessible your e-commerce store is? How do you plan to open up your online store to more consumers?

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