Accessibility in e-Commerce: What It Is and Why It Matters

  • 4.07.2023

What is accessibility in e-commerce?

Accessibility in e-commerce is about creating inclusive experiences by ensuring that all customers have barrier-free access to an online store. This means not limiting the e-commerce user experience for people with physical, cognitive, and situational disabilities.

Similar to other fields requiring accessibility, some people automatically conjure up the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 compliance when they hear the phrase “accessibility.” They then shrug and reason that these laws only apply to buildings or other tangible infrastructure. Accessibility, however, also pertains to e-commerce and guaranteeing a positive experience for everyone shopping online.

This article examines what accessibility means and why it is important to consider it when designing your online shopping store or other platform to deliver an inclusive e-commerce experience for your customers.

What is Section 508 compliance in the context of e-commerce accessibility?

When considering accessibility in the e-commerce space, the main focus should be on Section 508 compliance. So, what is Section 508 compliance in the context of accessibility in e-commerce?

Section 508 compliance refers to conformity with a provision of the 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in the United States, which mandates that all federal electronic and information technology (EIT) be accessible to people with disabilities, whether or not they are federal employees.

If you have an e-commerce store, you should ensure it is accessible to everyone because the Internet should be used by all. People living with disabilities in all aspects of life should have unlimited and unabated enjoyment of the World Wide Web.

Even though Section 508 compliance focuses exclusively on federal entities, it’s important to remember that many e-commerce websites are increasingly the target of lawsuits involving ADA Section 508 compliance issues.

In order to have your online store legally protected, it is important to make sure your allied website or platform, or any other digital assets, checks off every item on the ADA Section 508 compliance checklist. This post will give you a basic understanding of what accessibility in e-commerce is and why you should work to attain it.

Okay, let’s now break down what accessibility in e-commerce is so that it can help you plan on ensuring people with visual, hearing, ambulatory, or cognitive disabilities are able to access your online store just as easily as other customers without disabilities.

What is accessibility in e-commerce all about?

The ideal way to examine accessibility in e-commerce is to look at the best practices of top online retailers, which are supported by a well-thought-out checklist for Section 508 compliance. The following are some best practices you could adopt when creating your e-commerce platforms:

  • Providing appropriate messaging to ensure everyone is able to understand how to navigate your e-commerce platform, no matter how they are accessing it.
  • Avoiding selling products or services that are not accessible or using navigation guides that are not accessible, such as those that require someone to use a screen reader to access them, but do not give users with disabilities the opportunity to use the screen readers of their choice.
  • Providing additional useful descriptions that a screen reader can relay to help users with disability navigate images, videos, grids, and tables.
  • Undertaking frequent accessibility audits of the e-commerce platform to ensure no user with a disability is excluded from accessing it due to reading or navigation issues.
  • Undertaking thorough accessibility tests using updated Section 508 compliance checklists to ensure users with disabilities can interact with the online store using their assistive devices, and don’t require a mouse or keyboard to navigate the platform.
  • Ensuring that all time limits that could pause a challenge for people of any type of disability are disabled.

Accounting for disabilities is just one aspect of addressing accessibility in e-commerce. It also requires taking possible customers literacy levels into consideration. The language used on the online store, the alienating quality of jargon, and the sceptical thinking of the customers are all influenced by their levels of literacy.

E-commerce accessibility requires careful consideration of whether to include or exclude people who are illiterate in the English language. As a best practice, it may be difficult for potential customers to access the information on the web store if they are unable to comprehend the information that is offered there.

It is best to steer clear of wording that can make some users or potential buyers feel excluded when designing an accessible e-commerce platform. You need to be aware that using language that shows respect for everyone is an important part of any progressive Section 508 compliance checklist.

Along with language differences, e-commerce accessibility requires consideration of any existing cultural differences. This means that even how you ask your potential customers to fill out a feedback form for you could vary depending on where they are in the world.

Always be sure to provide material that speaks to the lowest common denominator while creating accessible e-commerce. This indicates that you ought to concentrate on writing that makes use of common knowledge. The general rule for any expression should be to simplify it whenever possible.

Make sure your design is compatible with many computer, laptop, tablet, and smartphone kinds, including Android, iPhone, and yes, even Blackberry, in order to reach a wide audience with your e-commerce messaging. If you want your e-commerce platform to be accessible to as many people as possible in this handheld-device-happy environment, making sure it is mobile-friendly also makes sense.

Why accessibility in e-commerce matters

Making your online store accessible matters a great deal for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it matters because, on average, about 13.2 million people in the United States have at least one disability that Section 508 compliance is meant to help with.

The top challenges faced by people with disabilities while accessing an online store include crowded pages with too much content, captcha needs, and poor link information and navigation.

You might still have questions in mind about why accessibility in e-commerce is important. Well, here are some of the reasons why developing an accessible e-commerce store or platform is essential:

  1. Creation of user enjoyment and customer loyalty

Imagine how a person with a disability would feel if they were able to easily navigate your online store without any help! That is the strength of an accessible and welcoming online store. Such inclusion provides consumers with motivation to continue with your online store because it helps them feel good about themselves.

  1. Conformity with existing accessibility laws

There are many federal and state laws that require e-commerce accessibility, and violating these laws could result in the loss of funding for businesses with government funding relationships as well as ADA-related lawsuits. Online stores that are not accessible risk losing lots of money defending themselves against ADA Section 508 lawsuits as well as in the payment of compensation to the claimants or petitioners.

  1. Leads to more traffic and conversions

15% of the world’s population is thought to have a disability of some kind. That is the amount of sales that a non-accessible online store is missing out on while using non-accessible e-commerce solutions.

The secret to success for any e-commerce store lies in the hands of everyone, irrespective of whether they have a disability or not. So, approaching the 15% of the population with disabilities with accessible solutions makes a lot of difference for online stores. That is because more traffic to accessible e-commerce platforms results in more conversions.

  1. Promotes usability for everyone

The accessibility of e-commerce stores also enhances their usability. This results in more intuitive user experiences. People without disabilities can benefit from the stores’ accessible design, particularly when they are in limiting situations such as adjusting screen brightness in a dark or bright room or reading captions for a video in noisy or quiet environments.

  1. Higher search engine optimization 

E-commerce sites that are easily accessible have better search engine optimization (SEO). They will appear near the top of a search engine as a result of their higher ranking. Additionally, building an accessible online store from the beginning is less expensive than going back and redesigning it from the ground up.

Need help establishing whether your e-commerce store is accessible?

If you have an e-commerce store and would like it tested for accessibility against an updated Section 508 compliance checklist, call us at (626) 486-2201 or schedule a consult today to find out how our e-commerce accessibility consultants can assist you. Our consultations are always free.