Web Accessibility: Why it Matters to all Retailers
More than 200 million Americans will shop online this year. Statistically, nearly 10 million of those shoppers will be visually impaired, more than 10 million will have a hearing impairment and more than four million of those will have severe limitations to their dexterity. For these shoppers, many goods and services offered online might be out of their reach.
Persons with disabilities often use assistive technology to access a website. But, if the site isn’t compatible with the hardware or software they use to surf the web, they simply cannot log in and spend. The good news is that there is a lot a retailer can do to make their site more accessible.
Rules are coming, retailers beware
In the United States, Title III of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) calls on all public retail locations to “prohibit exclusion, segregation and unequal treatment” of persons with disabilities. And now, the rules are moving toward including digital spaces.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently working on proposed changes to Title II of the ADA to include web accessibility regulations, which affects state and local government websites. It noted: “[A] Title II web accessibility rule is likely to facilitate the creation of an infrastructure for web accessibility…of the Title III Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” In other words, the ADA will soon cover all digital spaces. We expect to see rules for all sometime in 2018.
Best practice: Forms, images and more
The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) explain how a website should be coded and arranged to ensure it is accessible to persons with disabilities. This is the standard that the DOJ will police U.S. sites under Title III. Here are a few key areas to consider:
The first step to accessibility success is for designers and programmers to ensure clean, quality code. Many sites may have been created using WYSIWYG software or may have been rushed to completion. The result is excessive or non-compliant code. This can hinder efforts to go back and make websites more accessible, and may be non-compatible for accessibility readers and special software.
Adding alternative text for visual elements of a website is crucial for retailers that rely on images of products to sell them. Simply, a site must succinctly describe the content within a tag then the assistive technology ‘translates’ that into a clear and concise phrase or sentence.
Retailers that rely on customers being able to ‘see’ their product should carefully consider alternative text, and thought should be put into the description. Well-crafted text alternatives can add context to the item, better description, color choices, and improve the user experience for everyone.
One of the most important functions of an e-commerce page is the ability to pull information from users via online forms. But if a form isn’t clear and clean on the back end, it may not work for someone with a disability.
A user should be able to move from one box to the next in order and fill out the fields with a keyboard. If they cannot, then a person with a disability may have to abandon the form. That’s bad for business.
Good Heading Structure
An accessible website should include headings with the correct tags and keywords. Then, the page should be divided into sequential sub sections with sub headings, ideally also including important keywords. If you have a visual impairment and are unable to get an overview of a web page visually, you need to have an overview in another way.
We don’t read a website as we read a newspaper, we navigate in a non-linear fashion. This goes for accessibility technology too. Websites should have a coherent and clean hierarchy of headers that allow a reader to ‘see’ content divided into logical, sequential sections.
Web accessibility makes business sense
Understandably, within most organizations the bottom line is the bottom line. Luckily for us advocates, we can make a very compelling argument for web accessibility making business sense.
Every person with a disability that leaves your site in frustration or confusion is a dollar lost. One in 10 Americans has a ‘severe’ disability that may exclude them from being able to read your site. And it’s more than just blindness — disabilities may include visual, hearing, mobility or even cognitive issues — consider older customers who may be dealing with multiple conditions. But disability doesn’t preclude someone from being a consumer with money to spend on your product. An inaccessible site is ignoring tens of millions of consumers.
Also, web accessibility best practice is, by definition, best practice in Search Engine Optimization. Google likes clean, properly organized and tagged html. So web accessibility is, by default, ensuring a larger target market.
Start at the ground floor
On average, retailers redesign their websites every two years. Again, good news for accessibility advocates because implementing some of the issues detailed above are a lot easier at the ground floor. In the same way it’s easier and cheaper to make a new brick-and-mortar store accessible to people with disabilities, retailers should ensure that the next web redesign implements accessible code.
How do you implement web accessibility into big plans? When it comes to best practices and implementing web accessibility throughout the retail organization, it’s good to think of how you’d implement new customer services practice in a network of brick-and-mortar stores, for example. It takes buy-in at the highest level, before engaging with various departments through the organization.
It takes a village to make long-term changes that’ll stick throughout every iteration of your website, retailers should consider third-party resources that can ensure every new page, addition and component of a website is as accessible as possible. This will pay for itself.
Ultimately, regardless of government rules or the specter of lawsuits, making online retail pages accessible to people with disabilities is the right thing to do. Retailers are proud to offer accessible brick and mortar stores to all Americans. We should feel the same about our digital spaces.
Kevin Rydberg is a senior digital accessibility consultant for Siteimprove’s quality assurance and web governance services, and has been working with public and private institutions for more than 15 years to help make their web spaces more accessible.
Macy’s stays committed to Thanksgiving Day shopping
Macy’s is not joining the ranks of retailers and mall operators who plan to close their doors on Turkey Day. In fact, it’s opening them one hour earlier than last year.
In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Monday, the department store giant said Macy’s stores will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with most locations closing at 2 a.m., and then reopening at 5 a.m. on Friday. For the past two years, Macy’s stores opened at 6 p.m. on the holiday. In 2013, which was the first year Macy’s opened on Thanksgiving, stores opened at 8 p.m. and remained open all night.
In its statement, Macy’s cited "ongoing customer interest in shopping on Thanksgiving, both at Macy's and at many other retailers.” It also said it surveyed store employees well in advance about their preferences.
"We are working diligently to staff Thanksgiving with associates who volunteer," Macy's said. "Doing so means that our employees are able to make their own decisions about how they contribute to our most important and busiest weekend of the year."
Macy’s emailed the statement following an earlier report by BestBlackFriday.com, which tracks retailers' holiday hours and promotions. The research company said it received confirmation from five U.S. shopping centers that their Macy's locations would open at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Over the past couple of weeks, a growing number of retailers (notably, most of them are in the non-apparel specialty and big-box sectors) and malls, including Mall of America and CBL & Associates, which operates some 90 centers, have said they will close on Thanksgiving. (Tenants in CBL’s enclosed malls that have exterior entrances can remain open). Many retailers, including Target and J.C. Penney, have yet to announce their store plans for the holiday.
Investor seeks shakeup at Pier I
New York investment management firm Alden Global Capital is not happy with the board — or the CEO — of Pier I Imports.
Alden, the retailer’s largest active institutional investor, is demanding a shakeup of the Pier 1 board, reported the Dallas Business Journal.
In a letter to chairman Terry London, Alden said the board and Pier 1 CEO Alex Smith have failed to produce meaningful earnings for the chain.
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