How online retailers can improve website accessibility for Black Friday

Black Friday

Over the past 12 months, a number of high street retailers have improved accessibility for those with disabilities.

However, Hilary Stephenson, managing director at user experience (UX) agency, Sigma says that the onus is now on online retailers to improve their website accessibility, as customer experience for disabled people still lags behind progress made in physical stores.

The spending power of disabled people, or the ‘purple pound’, is estimated to be worth £249 billion per year, the majority of which is spent in the final quarter. However less than one in ten businesses have plans in place to cater for those with disabilities, which is a worrying statistic.

Last year UK consumers spent £6.45 billion online over the Black Friday peak period according to IMRG. However, this is said to be much lower than industry forecasts – posing the question of whether retailers are unintentionally locking out a huge number of potential customers because of accessibility barriers.

Research by disability charity, Purple, also revealed that three-quarters of disabled people have had to leave a physical store or website because they were unable to finish a purchase due to their disability. As a result, the UX industry is calling for greater consideration in the design and functionality of websites as Black Friday approaches.

There’s still lots to be done when it comes to improving online accessibility, but there are a number of simple measures that businesses can implement now to help those who may struggle to access online services, on Black Friday and further into the Golden Quarter.

Add audio prompts

Audio descriptions to describe what is happening on-screen are important, Apple’s VoiceOver or Google’s TalkBack software, are available for iOS and Android applications, and will help to guide those with visual impairments through the app or online experience.

Caption videos

Captioning videos will boost the user experience for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. However, the overwhelming majority (92%) of people now view videos with the sound off on mobile, and a similar amount (83%) watch with the sound off on PC, according to a new report from Verizon Media, so this should be common practice for any video content.

Add alternatives to e-tickets

As businesses make the move to digital platforms, they can completely abandon traditional forms of marketing and admin, such as leaflets and paper tickets, however these are still important. Believe it or not, not everyone has a smartphone, and paper ticket options are still necessary. In the move to be forward-thinking, businesses can in fact make themselves less accessible, and exclude a number of demographics unintentionally. Not considering the needs of all groups of society can result in the exclusion of those that do not, and cannot use the internet, such as the elderly or disabled people.

App-based assistance

Technology also holds the solution to greater accessibility – companies such as Neatebox address the issue of inadequate customer service and accessibility oversight, for visitors with specific accessibility requirements.

Oversights are often caused by a lack of disability awareness and confidence of staff members, and apps are able to bridge the gap, enabling those with disabilities to ask for assistance without stigma.

The Welcome app, from Neatebox, for example, lets users indicate the areas of a venue that they need specific assistance with, and the app delivers a detailed request and overview of the user’s condition, as well as tips for improving their interaction with the service to the business in question.

Avoid gamification of marketing

As marketing becomes more sophisticated and attempts to capture the imagination of consumers becomes more complex, retailers can end up alienating those that cannot move seamlessly from in-store to online, excluding those with cognitive or visual impairments.

For example, gamified online offers and visually-led marketing messaging may not be accessible to some as they cannot access the accompanying web facilities. This is not to say it shouldn’t be done at all, business should ensure they provide alternative ways to receive discounts and offers if consumers can’t take part in the main incentive. 

Make multiple points of contact available

Don’t just provide an email address for customer service enquires. Again, going digital and abandoning phone lines means those who cannot access email or other forms of digital communications cannot enquire about the status of their purchase. Equally, providing just a phone number to those with hearing impairments means that this demographic cannot effectively speak to customer support and gain the information they need.

Make UX easy

When designing a digital asset or website, make sure user experience and easy navigation is central to development. Users should be able to get the information they need within a few clicks. A visible and comprehensive search function is also integral to seamless navigation.

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.

There has to be an effort to apply these practices year-round following the Purple Tuesday awareness day. We are calling for people to look at the web inclusivity directive and embed inclusion into their processes as standard.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash