Many UK retail stores reopened on Monday 15th June following the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. While this is likely to bring a much-needed boost to the UK retail economy, it also provides a unique opportunity to examine how the limitations imposed by global lockdowns have affected the already changing landscape of buyer behavior in the retail sector, how website accessibility can affect consumer spending, and what steps companies should be taken to adjust for this in their strategies to maximize market share and profits.
Changing Buyer Behaviors
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, retailers were already seeing a significant shift in spending patterns, with continuous growth in the online shopping market year on year:
- In 2018, the market penetration rate of digital consumers worldwide was already 47.3%.
- The sector is growing so rapidly that the global online shopping market size was already predicted to hit 4 trillion in 2020.
- According to a study by Invesp, the USA and the UK are the countries with the highest average e-commerce revenue per shopper, at $1,804 and $1,629 per person per annum respectively.
- The British Retail Consortium expects that over half of all UK retail sales will be online within 10 years.
- The USA is expected to have 300 million online shoppers by 2023. To put that into perspective, that’s 91% of the entire population!
The Impacts of Covid-19
The restriction of access to ‘brick and mortar’ retail shops during the Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly pushed more shoppers online. In response, companies have been trying to adapt to changes and present solutions to support their customers’ needs. What has become clear, however, is that the pandemic simply acted as a catalyst for the already prevalent shift toward shopping online. So retailers that want to hold onto their market share and keep consumers buying need to ensure that their e-commerce sites are optimized for user experience. This means taking account of all users, including those with disabilities and accessibility barriers. While this has always been the case, in theory, the significant upturn in online shopping habits and the resulting effect on the bottom line for many retailers has highlighted the need for accessibility for all. Essentially, this has changed the priority of accessibility to be something that has to be done, rather than something that should be done.
“Website accessibility and usability has been a major issue for many disabled people with access needs for many years and little progress was being made despite the law, guidance, and publicity.”
Rick Williams, Click-Away Pound Survey
3 Key Reasons to be Accessible Online
Profitability – In 2016, 82% of consumers with accessibility issues said they would spend more if there were fewer barriers. By 2019 this figure had risen to 86%. This may seem like a small percentage, but it equates to billions of pounds nationally, and trillions globally. Even before Covid-19, the Click-Away Pound Survey estimated that UK businesses alone were losing £17 billion per year in revenue due to inaccessible websites. Worldwide, the figure for lost revenue due to accessibility equates to a consumer spending power of £2.25 trillion. This makes the impact on sales, market share, and profit abundantly clear.
Optimization of online sales – In a bid to bolster online operations, retail businesses such as Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, and Arcadia (the owner of Topshop) had already announced plans to close several stores in the year ahead, and as of June, Inditex plans to close between 1,000 and 1,200 Zara stores worldwide. However, to be truly inclusive in the online retail market and optimize the transition from in-store to online sales, brands need to ensure that their websites are accessible to all.
Corporate Social Responsibility – Everyone should have the opportunity to access online content and shop for the products they want and need. So put simply, it is the right thing to do to support consumers who are impacted by learning difficulties or are otherwise neurodiverse, visually impaired, speak English as a second language, or are of old age. Plus, the Covid-19 pandemic presents an additional layer to corporate social responsibility considerations. In focusing on online sales and keeping customers away from physical stores, retailers can play their part in reducing possible transmissions and contributing to a potential ‘second wave’ of the virus.
Despite these driving factors, studies show that fewer than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access the disability market. This needs to change and to accommodate those with differing abilities websites must be accessible.
How to Support Shoppers Online
Nearly one in five people in the UK have some form of disability that could affect their capacity to access information. Data shows that 70% of people with access needs will click away from an inaccessible website, yet only 8% will contact the site owner to alert them to barriers. This puts the onus on businesses to identify the needs of their online consumers and adapt to meet them.
The Recite Me assistive toolbar allows consumers barrier-free access to explore products on a website. It is a cloud-based accessibility and language support toolbar that allows users to fully control the way they use a website based on their individual needs. Features include:
- A screen reader for easy navigation and focus.
- Styling options to fully customize text style, size, and spacing, and alter color contrast for ease of use.
- Reading aids such as an on-screen ruler and text-only mode.
- A translation tool with over 100 text languages and 35 text-to-speech voices.
The Benefits to Retailers
Recite Me can help improve revenue by increasing inquiries and sales conversions. The impact of the Recite Me toolbar can be effectively measured by improvements in sales, and will also provide further useful insights into the buying behavior of consumers. You needn’t just take our word for it though, as there are many testimonials from happy users who have already successfully integrated our accessibility software onto their sites and are seeing the benefits.
“Watford FC aims to make the football environment one that all fans can enjoy. Having introduced many new measures within the retail stores’ environment to ensure we were fully accessible for our disabled customers, it was then time to ensure our online experience was also not only compliant but easy and attractive for all of our visually impaired and blind customers to use. Now fully integrated into The Hornets shop, the Recite Me accessibility tool has transformed the way we can help customers with any visual impairment to buy from us and get all of the club’s updates and information. Recite Me has been invaluable in helping us achieve this.”
Mat Robinson, Head of Retail, Watford FC