Window shopping: drawing people in to your online store


In the past year, lockdowns have meant we are spending more time online. This has forced many people to become more tech-savvy, but there are some who have been left out in the cold.

As more and more vendors double down on a digital-first approach, people with accessibility needs such as visual impairments have struggled to access online services. To keep customers engaged and provide an inclusive approach for those shopping online, businesses need to focus on accessibility.  

Those who don’t have accessibility needs can often forget the importance of an easy-to-understand, and simple-to-navigate website. 

Recent research indicates that less than 1% of website home pages are likely to meet standard accessibility requirements. Pair this with the knowledge that nearly three quarters of disabled online consumers will leave a website that they find difficult to use. 83% of disabled users will only shop on sites that they know are accessible. This means that UK retailers could be missing out on online sales of around £17.1 billion a year.

It’s important to remember that accessibility isn’t just about the technical aspects of your website either. It also encompasses the language that you use and how easy your content is to understand.

How many people are you excluding?

If you’re not addressing the inclusion on your website, then you are cutting out a significant proportion of your market. The NHS estimates that approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability. Beyond this, there are approximately 2 million people in Britain living with sight loss that is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives. Approximately 1 in 8 of adult males and 1 in 200 adult females have some form of colour blindness. In total, there are approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, including 19% of working age adults.

These numbers are significant but they only include those with diagnosed disabilities. Uncaptured by these statistics is the fact that the average reading age for adults in the UK is roughly nine years old. If your online shop window has language that is hard to understand, you could be excluding an enormous pool of potential customers. If your UX is not accessible, struggling users will simply not reach the checkout. 

The importance of this cannot be overstated. The 2021 WebAIM Million report found that 86% of websites contain low colour contrast text. This could be enough to prevent the groups with vision impairments listed above from being able to use these websites with ease. Despite access to guidelines such as the WCAG, many e-retailers do not consider the accessibility needs of their customer base - taking a sledgehammer to their own revenue stream as a result. It wouldn’t be acceptable for 86% of public buildings to have no special access measures for those with physical disabilities. It is not acceptable that 86% of websites fail on at least one accessibility measure. 

Accessibility makes the UX

User experience is a consideration at the forefront of many online retailers’ priorities. But what is often forgotten is that accessibility is a key part of that process. 

When using analytics to examine the UX there is more of a focus, particularly in e-commerce, on the journey that the user takes. Data around time spent on particular pages, or where people are dropping-off take the focus. To understand why this is happening, most look at the product, or at the interactions between these pages, for answers. In reality, vendors should also consider the complexity of language on each page and whether disabled customers can use them properly. It could be that these two factors are in fact driving customer drop-off. 

For a website to be fully accessible, then it must be possible to navigate using only the keyboard. For this to be possible, the website must have a clean and precise layout - making it easier to navigate for all. 

Having transcripts and closed captions for audio and video content is helpful not just for people with disabilities. It is helpful to a wide group of users. In the instance of a slow internet connection - the text will load faster and minimise frustration.  

Audit and improve accessibility with technology 

Making the UX as accessible as possible may seem like a monumental task, but it doesn’t all have to be managed manually. Technology has come a long way in auditing and providing insight on the accessibility of your site. 

Pages can be scanned for errors in seconds and issues can be prioritised for your team. Authoring tools can support content creators to write in an inclusive manner. Reading age can be measured, jargon words identified and suggestions for improvements easily made.

Utilising this tech should be a consideration for any vendor keen to prioritise online inclusion. 

Building brand reputation and customer engagement

Aside from engaging with a wider audience and building an inclusive brand, there are many other ways in which having an accessible website can benefit companies. 

For example, accessibility and SEO are linked very closely. Providing transcripts and closed captions for web content is a requirement for meeting web accessibility standards such as WCAG. As Google and other search engines provide search results based on matching search text with web text, they cannot search through your audio and video content. So, closed captions and transcripts help your SEO because the text enables your website to be discovered by search engines. 

Consumers are also increasingly prioritising spending their money with socially-responsible businesses.  Brands which disregard consumers with accessibility needs will not be attractive to the ethically minded consumer. Consumers will appreciate a brand which makes a demonstrable commitment improving the experience of customers with accessibility needs.

Accessibility measures are not just ‘nice to have’.’ They are essential if we are to strive towards a society that is accepting and accommodating of everyone, regardless of ability, illness, or special educational needs. Your website is now your shop window - you should make sure it’s as inviting and inclusive as possible. 

Accessibility is not only the ‘right’ thing to do in terms of making the lives of people with accessibility needs easier. It is also the ‘right’ thing to do in terms of maximising your businesses’ revenue. If a website is not easy to navigate and understand, dwell time on that website will drop, consumer engagement will decrease, and thus fewer sales will be made.  


About the author

Ryan Graham, Chief Technical Officer, Texthelp

As Texthelp CTO, Ryan oversees our team of engineers in the development of Texthelp’s products – which include solutions for both workplace and education – to ensure they are safe, secure and easy to use.