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Gaining a Competitive Edge in E-Commerce with Website Accessibility

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In 2020, global online shopping sales reached over $4.28trillion, demonstrating a significant rise from previous years. In line with this, the volume of e-commerce outlets also rose sharply. On Shopify alone, the number of new stores increased by 62% in just one 6-week period during March and April in 2020.

Normally consumers have a choice of whether to shop online with a retailer or visit a physical store. But in the last year or so, that element of choice has been largely removed.

So what does this mean for retailers? How do they succeed in the competitive online market? How do they stand out among new competitors? And how do high street sellers safeguard their market share in the transition to making more online sales?

Web accessibility can be a big factor in helping e-commerce companies gain a competitive edge.

E-Commerce spend rises 21.3%

Evolving E-Commerce Behaviors

The restriction of access to retail shops during the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more shoppers online. E-commerce spending jumped from 15.8% in 2019 to 21.3% in 2020, and is expected to rise to over 27% in 2021.

But even before COVID, retailers were already seeing a significant shift from in-store to online spending. This can be contributed to a number of factors including:

  • The increase in smartphone mobile shopping
  • Social media influences like Facebook and Instagram shopping

  • New technology

  • The changing buyer preferences of Millennials to Gen Z’s.

These changing market trends have been a driving factor behind the rapid growth of the e-commerce industry in recent years.

But there’s a problem….

Just because something is digital, doesn’t mean that it’s accessible. So to be successful, e-commerce operators need to ensure that their websites are optimised for user experience. This means taking account of all users, including those with disabilities and accessibility barriers.

“Too many website projects suffer from strategies that don’t put accessibility at the core and therefore fail to meet some of the most basic of accessibility guidelines and requirements.”

Dean Appleton-Claydon, Web Developer & Entrepreneur


The Strength of the Purple Pound

The Purple Pound is the term used to describe the spending power of those with disabilities.

There is a wide range of internet users who face access barriers to online shopping sites. This includes those who struggle with:

  • Vision problems

  • Physical disabilities

  • Learning difficulties

  • Cognitive or neurological disorders

  • Language and literacy issues

Approximately 20% of people in the UK and 25% of people in the USA sit in the disability market. This equates to spending power of £24.8 billion in the UK alone, while in the USA the total disposable income of the disabled market sits at $490 billion.

Spending power of people with access needs £24.8 billion

The big takeaway here is that if your website is not accessible, you are excluding a vast number of potential customers and missing out on significant revenue opportunities.

The Perils of the Click Away Pound

Click-Away Pound is a research survey that analyses the online shopping habits and experiences of people with disabilities. Their latest survey demonstrated that:

  • 70% of online consumers surveyed will click away from websites that they find difficult to use.
  • 83% of participants limit their shopping to sites that they know are accessible.

  • 86% of respondents choose to pay more for products from accessible websites rather than purchase the same products for less on websites that are harder to use.

  • 35% of users with access needs use a smartphone as their preferred device for online shopping.

  • Only 8% of users with access needs will contact the site owner about any accessibility barriers they experience.

These statistics show how important it is for e-commerce sites to provide digital accessibility for all on their websites and apps.

70% click off websites that are difficult to use

Web Accessibility is the Smart Thing to Do

It’s not all about revenue though. From improving brand reputation to avoiding legal complications, the benefits of making your e-commerce site accessible are widely documented:

  • Forbes magazine reports that 52% of all adult consumers consider a company’s values when making a purchase online.

  • Many customers, and Millennials to Gen Z’s in particular, favour brands that care about helping others.

  • Becoming inclusive sets you apart from your competition.

  • Demonstrating inclusive policies helps you become an employer of choice.

  • It is expected by law that businesses do not treat those with disabilities less favourably.

Web Accessibility is the Right Thing to Do

All of these business bolstering reasons aside, ensuring your products and services are available to everyone is simply the right thing to do.

“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”

Steve Krug, Computer Programmer and Web Usability Expert


How to Make E-Commerce Stores Inclusive

Most businesses avoid web accessibility and inclusion factors, dismissing them as too complicated or too costly. But that needn’t be the case. Here are our top three strategies for making your e-commerce store more inclusive.



1. Adapt Your Website Build

Making websites more accessible is not rocket science these days. Most reliable developers are well aware of accessibility factors, as they are becoming more and more prevalent in Google ranking algorithms. The first steps are to ensure that your website:

  • Uses a content management system that supports accessibility

  • Uses headings correctly to structure your content

  • Includes alt text for all images

  • Gives descriptive names to your links

  • Is mindful of colour use and colour contrasts

  • Ensures forms are designed for accessibility

  • Is keyboard friendly

2. Comply with Accessibility Legislation & Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a breakdown of accessibility factors and classify compliance into various levels. For e-commerce stores to meet minimum requirements for accessibility, it is recommended that websites should be aiming for WCAG 2.1 at an AA level.

There are also legal considerations. The laws that apply to your business will depend on where your company is based, but examples include:

3. Use Assistive Technology

Software solutions like the Recite Me assistive toolbar promote inclusivity by allowing those with sight loss, cognitive impairments, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and varying linguistic needs to access your website in the way that is best suited to them. Toolbar functions include:

  • Fully customisable text size, font, and spacing.

  • The ability to change text colour and background colour contrasts.

  • A screen mask to provide colour tinting and block visual clutter.

  • Additional reading aids such as an on-screen ruler and text-only mode.

  • Text-to-speech functions in 35 languages.

  • A real-time translation feature catering to over 100 languages.

Features of assistive technology

We already work with several businesses in the e-commerce sector, including Promo Direct, Curve Theatre, Awin, Rugby League World Cup ticket store, and Watford FC’s Hornets Shop.

“We believe that the internet should be available and accessible to everyone. At Promo Direct are committed to delivering a website that is accessible to a wide range of audiences, regardless of their ability and circumstance.”

Dave Sarro, CEO of Promo Direct


A Case Study: Watford FC Hornets Shop

Having the Recite Me toolbar available to fans shopping for Watford FC merchandise made a huge difference.

Over a 12 month period:

  • 661 unique users clicked to open our toolbar

  • 2,382 pages were viewed on the Hornet Shop website using Recite Me

  • On average users viewed 3.6 pages per session, whereas the average website journey is only 2.8 pages.

“The Recite accessibility tool has transformed the way we can help customers to buy from us and also get all of the club’s updates and information we provide. Recite has been invaluable in helping us achieve this.”

Mat Robinson, Head of Retail, Watford FC


Learn More About Becoming Inclusive

Want to learn more about our web accessibility tools and boost the success of your e-commerce business?

Contact our team or book a live demonstration today, and join the thousands of other organisations who are already enjoying the benefits of a more accessible website.

Furthermore, Recite Me has recently released our own online accessibility checker, which can be used for free to analyse a variety of web accessibility factors.
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