Web design experts are calling for online retailers to improve their website accessibility, as customer experience for disabled people still lags behind progress made in physical stores.

The accessibility onus has now shifted to the online retail sector, following efforts from high street retailers, such as introducing a weekly “quiet hour” to provide a welcoming environment for shoppers with autism.

However, not all retailers have welcomed change and are willing to facilitate users of different abilities. Domino’s Pizza is involved in an on-going legal battle, in the United States, as a visually impaired user claims he is unable to access the company’s app or website, which is against the country’s disability legislation. Domino’s argues that the laws were written before the advent of the internet and therefore should not apply to a digital business.

As 12 November 2019 marks Purple Tuesday, a day dedicated to the awareness of the purple pound – the spending power of disabled people – user experience (UX) and digital agency, Sigma, is calling for greater consideration in the design and functionality of websites.

Hilary Stephenson, managing director at user experience (UX) agency, Sigma, said: “There has been a step change in recent years as retailers welcome those of all abilities in-store, however there’s still lots to be done when it comes to online accessibility.

“The responsibility is on all businesses, whatever their size or sector, to ensure their services are accessible - as nearly one in five people in the UK has a disability or impairment. Better accessibility should not be an option, or consideration in hindsight, it should be a central customer experience consideration from the start.” 

Research by disability charity, Purple, revealed that three-quarters (75%) of disabled people have had to leave a physical store or website because they were unable to finish a purchase due to their disability.

Some of the most common examples of inaccessible websites and bad UX design practice include:

• Cluttered layouts, excessive pop-ups and intrusive adverts

• Hard to find, and the small print of, returns policy or delivery options

• Confusing and long-winded terms and conditions

• Checkout time pressures, time-limited discounts and scarcity

• Poor colour contrast on important calls to action, links or buttons, resulting in missed content or functionality

• Videos without audio descriptions or audio without subtitles on product descriptions

• 360 videos, options to change the product colour, fabric or pattern, and other interactive customisation features that don’t work with assistive technology

Hilary continued: “Retailers that make their websites more accessible to disabled consumers, for social and ethical reasons, will also benefit commercially as they enable more people to purchase their products and services. The ‘purple pound’ is estimated to be worth £249 billion, per year, however less than one in ten business have plans in place to cater for those with disabilities.

“Implementing online accessibility measures like audio descriptions of what is happening on-screen will improve the user experience immensely. Apple’s VoiceOver or Google’s TalkBack software, will help to guide those with visual impairments through the online experience. There are also many ways to improve life for those with motor impairment and hearing issues online too.

“One-day initiatives such as Purple Tuesday are great for driving awareness campaigns, but inclusion has to occur all year round. There has to be an effort to apply these practices year-round. We are calling for people to look at the web inclusivity directive and embed inclusion into their processes as standard.”