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Retail Reality: Now More Than Ever, Your Online Store Must Be Accessible


Not since the advent of the internet has anything reshaped the retail industry quite like COVID-19. As stay-at-home orders were issued around the world, bricks and mortar stores were forced to temporarily close, forcing consumers to go online to purchase their groceries, household items and other essentials.  And go online they did – according to CCInsight, online sales have hit extraordinary highs throughout the pandemic:

Illustration of storefront that looks like a computer screen.
  • U.S. retailers’ online year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth is up 68% as of mid-April, surpassing an earlier peak of 49% in early January.
  • There’s been a 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders as of April 21 and a 146% growth in all online retail orders.

But this shift to online shopping hasn’t been easy for everyone. Due to a lack of web accessibility, people living with disabilities aren’t able to access the online stores and services many of us have relied on to get us through lockdown, and this is now a critical issue for retailers. Though we might see a return to pre-pandemic shopping habits once restrictions are lifted, one thing is clear: online shopping is here to stay, and it’s imperative that everyone is able to access your site the same way.

The disability market is huge – there are 1.3 billion people with disabilities globally and in the US alone, they represent $490 billion in disposable income. Friends and family add an additional 105 million individuals with an emotional connection to disability, making them a demographic you can’t afford to ignore. But if your website is inaccessible, that’s exactly what you’re doing. A 2019 Click-Away Pound Study found that 69% of people with disabilities will abandon a site that presents access barriers — resulting in yearly losses of £17.1 billion in the UK alone. Are you losing out?

Where Most Online Stores Fall Short

Accessibility issues frequently occur with forms, buttons, icons and images. Additionally, if your site fails to offer alternative navigation, like keyboard-only navigation, many consumers might be unable to browse your products, or worse, add items to their shopping cart. To prevent issues:

  • Ensure your website uses high-contrast colors with text that is large, clear, and easy to read
  • Confirm that all buttons and forms are accessible using both a mouse and keyboard
  • Be sure all images contain alt text describing what’s pictured
  • Use descriptive links that describe what you are linking to as opposed to a generic ‘click here’ prompt

Of course, this is only scratching the surface of digital accessibility – conforming to WCAG standards is the best way to ensure your website is fully accessible to everyone.

How to Get Started

Achieving and maintaining digital compliance is an ongoing process, but you owe it to your customers to make it happen. Start with an audit of your website to gain a comprehensive understanding of all accessibility issues occurring. Automated audits are useful, but they’re only able to identify approximately 40% of accessibility errors. To get a website that complies with WCAG standards, you’ll need to undergo functional and manual testing as well. Working with a digital accessibility compliance vendor who can provide these detailed audits will offer a more comprehensive scope of issues and get you to an acceptable accessibility baseline much quicker. They can also work with you to develop an accessibility roadmap that will guide you through the remediation process and ensure you’re making required fixes as necessitated by risk.

Want to learn more about the importance of offering a fully accessible digital retail presence? Watch our on-demand webinar held in partnership with the retail experts at Fit For Commerce. In it, you’ll hear from Charmaine Madamba, Senior Global Product Manager at VF Corporation. Charmaine shares the story of what prompted VF Corp’s journey into digital accessibility and offers great advice for success.

Click here to watch the webinar

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