This blog is part of our accessible e-commerce series alongside our can’t-miss webinar with Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

tim springer by Tim Springer, Founder and CEO, Level Access

E-commerce holiday preparation has already overtaken the retail world as companies work well in advance to increase customer support, update store pages, and enhance website security. But, if this year is anything like earlier holidays, retailers and B2C organizations are overlooking an important demographic: people who have disabilities. Last year, retailers lost more than $828 million due to inaccessible websites — excluding a critical market and potentially harming their brand reputation.

One in four American adults has a disability and may require special enhancements or features on a website in order to make it user friendly. E-commerce companies are mandated to meet online accessibility requirements, but this year the stakes are higher: with inflation on the rise and a recession looming, it’s predicted that consumers are going to be even more selective in their online shopping. Is your online business prepared?

An enormous sales opportunity

With the Covid-19 pandemic, online sales skyrocketed in the last two years. More than $219 billion additional revenue hit retailers’ bottom lines in 2020 and 2021, thanks to an onslaught of online shopping. While 2022 has brought on inflation, slowing spending, one thing is certain across the retail industry: the market is unpredictable, and retailers must be over-prepared for heightened competition this holiday season.

This means also ensuring your e-commerce store is set up to serve shoppers with disabilities. These consumers stand for more than $175 billion in discretionary spending. There are more than 61 million people with disabilities in the U.S. alone — that’s one in four adults.

Shoppers today are discerning and selective. Not only do they want a great product, they also expect great value and a seamless online shopping experience. As one recent report notes: “Shopping must be fast and efficient some of the time, rich and experiential other times, and always easy and intuitive. What’s more, consumers expect companies to cater to their needs and live up to their social and environmental responsibility claims.”

Your brand reputation encompasses the relationship you have with your customers — and the promises you make to your customers every day. It’s not just your customers — it’s the media, it’s your investors, it’s your broader community (whether online or local), and your employees. The truth is people want to shop at brands that share their values. People want to spend money with companies that are doing good in the world and taking a stance — whether it’s in sustainable brands, climate change and ESG — or, accessible and inclusive websites.

A recent report commissioned by Google Cloud found that “a staggering82%of shoppers want a brand’s values to align with their own. What’s more, consumers are clearly willing to act on this sentiment withthree-quartersof shoppers surveyed saying they had parted ways with a brand over a conflict in values.”

Your website is just one depiction of your brand, but it’s an important one. It tells the world where you choose to invest your budget and resources; it tells consumers whether you care about diversity and inclusion; it paints a very clear picture about whether you care about creating an easy and accessible shopping experience. Are you creating a welcoming experience? Or, are you causing frustration and exasperation — and losing out on a large, powerful customer base?

What to consider when creating an accessible website

Well-intentioned companies, designers, and developers create e-commerce websites that exclude huge numbers of people through a variety of experiences and errors. For example:

  • How is your color contrast? If it’s not strong, people who struggle to read website text or who have limited viewing may struggle with even deciding whether they like your product, or with seeing the text that provides product descriptions or details.
  • Do you have captions on your videos? If not, you’re excluding customers with auditory disabilities. Your marketing or product video is missing an entire market of prospective buyers.
  • What about mouse-only navigation? Not every buyer uses a keyboard or touchscreen to browse and buy. They won’t be able to browse your products whatsoever.
  • No alt-text. If you wish to welcome customers who may be blind to your online store, you should include alt-text. You want them to be able to see the details of the products you’re offering so you can answer their questions and ensure they receive the right information to make a buy decision.

These changes should be treated as a strategic priority. 72% of prospective buyers may click away from your website if it’s difficult to use. And, 82% will pay more to one of your competitors if they can deliver a hassle-free shopping experience.

Not a nice-to-have — it’s the law

While people with disabilities offer an enormous sales opportunity — and, a great way to hold true to your brand values — nearly all homepage websites — 98% — fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. This means they are not just leaving business on the table; they are vulnerable to accessibility lawsuits, which are increasing at a rapid pace in 2021 from the prior year. While most are settled out of court — it can cost companies thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

Prepare your website to be accessible for the holidays

Website accessibility is not a project — it’s an entire area or function that requires ongoing visibility and expertise, just like companies treat cybersecurity, risk management, and human resources. Not only is it ever-changing from a tools, resource, and legality perspective, it must be considered at the earliest stages of website, software, or product development. Folding accessibility into development cycles early on allows for proper planning and testing. The companies that approach it in such a thoughtful manner are the ones who will benefit from long-term efficiencies.

Accessible companies are values-driven and committed to delivering inclusive and exceptional customer experiences — for every single customer. The change starts with commitment from company leaders and then can be advanced by working with the right third-party partner to serve as your guide and expert in the ADA compliance space.

If you’re concerned about your website accessibility as you plan for a busy holiday season, view our webinar with Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to learn insights on how to deliver great customer experiences with inclusive and accessible digital media.