As ecommerce experiences continue to evolve into different forms in terms of how it is presented and consumed, online businesses are discovering how important it is to create an inclusive and accessible online shopping experience.
Web accessibility refers to designing and developing websites in a way that accommodates individuals with disabilities, including visual, hearing, cognitive, and motor impairments. The ultimate goal is to allow any online user to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with web content effectively. In the context of ecommerce, this means being able to fully engage with your ecommerce website, utilize its features to browse products, and make purchases without friction.
In this article, we will explore the importance of web accessibility for online businesses, and the top 5 ways to enhance it for your ecommerce platform.
The impact of web accessibility
A common misconception when it comes to accessibility is that online businesses are only catering to one particular segment of customers. In reality, an ecommerce site that meets (or exceeds) accessibility standards actually creates equal opportunities for all users.
Seemingly obvious actions such as offering alternative methods of payment and providing clear and detailed product information, help enhance the online shopping experience regardless of a user’s abilities. By prioritizing accessibility, ecommerce companies stand to gain from the following benefits:
- They can expand the customer base by reaching a wider audience.
- They can demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity which fosters positive brand reputation and customer loyalty.
- They can improve search rankings. From 2021, Google has begun using page experience as a factor in their algorithms, meaning that it promotes websites that are not only SEO-optimized but that also offers a better user experience.
A note about accessibility guidelines and standards
To ensure web accessibility, several guidelines and standards have been developed. One widely recognized guideline is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which provides a comprehensive framework for creating accessible web content. WCAG covers four core principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. By adhering to these guidelines, ecommerce sites can ensure that they are compatible with assistive technologies and provide a seamless user experience for all.
Improving web accessibility in ecommerce involves implementing specific strategies and best practices. So without further ado, the below are the five tips that we would recommend to improve accessibility for your online business.
1. Streamline the ecommerce checkout journey
In the process of starting and operating an ecommerce, a business owner has to focus heavily to ensure that several different areas are working smoothly and in tandem with one another – site functionality, product stocking, supply chain, delivery, etc.
However as an ecommerce business evolves, having a functional buy button alone is not sufficient by itself to grow sales. Often, users look for an online shopping experience that is the fastest, most convenient, and most pleasing to the eye.
Case in point: Telestream, a software company specializing in video content distribution, conducted an A/B test on its ecommerce checkout experience. Their customer acquisition strategy at the time focused on driving traffic to their website for trials or purchases.
There were 2 options:
- Option A: “Hello, here is everything at once” – A single-step form.
- Option B: “Hello, here is one thing at a time” – A step-by-step process.
Which was the better ecommerce checkout experience for their users?
In the end, Option B generates 5% more sales. It was designed with the same information as Option A, but spread across three steps to make it less overwhelming for users.
While not directly related to accessibility, the Telestream case study emphasizes the importance of streamlining the checkout process and making it convenient to all users for better accessibility. For example, here are some best practices you can adapt for forms on your website:
- Use clear and concise labels for form fields.
- Provide helpful instructions in placeholder texts, info buttons, or other methods.
- Ensure that users can navigate and complete forms using keyboard-only interactions.
- Implement autofill and validation features to assist users in entering information correctly.
- Provide clear error messages to assist users in completing actions successfully.
2. Optimize page performance for better accessibility
Website performance plays a significant role in accessibility. Slow page load times, excessive layout shifts, and other performance issues can impede users with disabilities from navigating your website effectively. By addressing these performance bottlenecks, you can enhance accessibility and ensure that all users can interact with your website without barriers.
Monitoring page performance allows you to identify areas for improvement and optimize your website accordingly. A tool such as Valido Web Score allows you to automatically measure and monitor performance metrics that translate to the user experience. One group of metrics that Web Score provides insight on is Google Lighthouse, which in itself proportions an accessibility score for all websites.
Another example of a performance indicator that has a direct impact on accessibility is the Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), a Web Vitals metric that measures the visual stability of a website.
Valido Web Score provides a user-friendly dashboard that presents performance and user experience metrics in a clear and actionable manner. In addition, it generates actionable insights and recommends solutions powered by AI, enabling you to optimize your ecommerce efficiently.
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3. Focus on the details in the User Interface (UI)
Customers, as humans, are sensitive even to the tiniest details in the online user experience. This is amplified even further in the case of users with disabilities. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind.
Ensuring sufficient contrast
One key aspect of UI design that is often overlooked but greatly impacts accessibility is the contrast between text and background colors. Users with visual impairments rely on sufficient contrast to read and understand the content on your website. By choosing color combinations that provide clear contrast, you can make your content accessible to a wider range of users.
Paying attention to typography
In addition to contrast, typography plays a significant role in improving accessibility for users with visual impairments. Choose fonts that are legible and scalable, allowing users to adjust the text size according to their preferences. Ensure that the text is clear, well-spaced, and easy to read across different devices and screen sizes.
The impact of visual errors
Unfortunately, even minor visual errors can lead to major consequences in accessibility. Therefore it is crucial to have robust visual and user experience testing tools such as Valido Testing that can detect these mistakes before they impact your customers. By prioritizing UI/UX testing and optimization, you can ensure that your website provides a seamless experience for all users.
4. Review your site navigation and structure
To enhance accessibility for your ecommerce store, it’s crucial to review and optimize your navigation and site structure. Below are a number of tips that you can already consider:
- Organize your product categories and menus in a logical hierarchy for easy browsing.
- Implement breadcrumbs whenever possible, as it helps all users to navigate your website in an efficient manner.
- Keep menus simple and straightforward, avoiding complexity that may confuse users.
- Structure content with headings, lists, and semantic tags. This benefits users relying on screen readers or other assistive technologies for navigation.
These tips are very closely related to SEO and usability guidelines. There are tools and resources that can help you to ensure that your ecommerce adheres to these and similar guidelines. For a strategic approach to improve accessibility and other important aspects of your ecommerce, Valido’s Enterprise Audit service can help you develop a comprehensive action plan.
5. Provide accessibility for ALL
It is crucial to provide alternative methods for accessing your ecommerce website, considering that not all disabilities are visible. Here are some best practices to consider:
Design your website to be fully operable using a keyboard. This enables users who cannot use a mouse to navigate and interact with web content effectively. Ensure that all interactive elements, such as buttons and links, can be accessed and activated through keyboard inputs.
Alt text for images
The most commonly highlighted SEO best practice is to provide descriptive alt text for images, and for a good reason. This ensures that visually impaired users or individuals using screen readers can understand visual content. Alt text should convey the purpose and context of the image, allowing users to form a complete understanding of the information presented.
Captions and transcripts for video/audio content
Including captions for videos and transcripts for audio content ensures that multimedia is accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions provide synchronized text descriptions of spoken dialogue and audio cues, while transcripts provide a textual representation of audio content.
By implementing these best practices, you create a more inclusive experience for all users, regardless of their abilities.
Web accessibility is not just a legal requirement; it is a moral obligation and an opportunity to make the online world inclusive for everyone. By prioritizing accessibility in web design and development, ecommerce businesses can create a positive impact, reaching a wider audience, and delivering exceptional user experiences.
Along with the right tools, and by implementing the strategies and best practices discussed in this article, you can create a more accessible ecommerce that benefits both users and the business. It is important to note that web accessibility is not just about complying with guidelines; it’s about creating an inclusive and equitable digital space for everyone.
For more information on how Valido can help you enhance web accessibility, performance, and user experience for your ecommerce, contact us today.
Digital UX, writing about the latest ecommerce trends.