Picture the scene: You’ve managed to get to the shops, you’re excited you know what you want and you’ve got the money to pay for it. You’re in a wheelchair and there’s only steps, no ramp in to the shop. How do you feel? Pretty deflated at the very least I expect.

A lack of accessibility on the high street is costing retailers billions of pounds and is losing them valued custom from disabled shoppers. econsultancy.com carried out tests to see if the same was happening online and the results were surprising…

The ‘digital high street’ is a convenient way to shop without having to tackle the barriers disabled shoppers face in store. What better time than now to review the online accessibility of some popular UK retailers including Boots, Tesco, House of Fraser and more.

To evaluate a website’s online accessibility, they were audited against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the W3C (WCAG 2.0).

A typical shopping journey was followed to understand how the retailers approached accessibility and they looked at things such as keyboard accessibility and screen reader compatibility. These are just some aspects that are considered major aspects of WCAG 2.0 Level AA, others include:

  • Use of headings
  • Alt text for images
  • Availability of skip links
  • Inclusion of a visible focus
  • Access to forms
  • Use of ARIA to provide greater context
  • Access of pop ups / modal windows
  • Colour contrast
  • Content ordered logically
  • Meaningful links that describe their purpose

All sites failed to meet Level AA of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines so disabled users would find it difficult to purchase a product. Half of the websites totally blocked users at certain points in their online journey.

Tesco and House of Fraser provided clear and consistent visible focus – a navigational technique informing the user of where they are on the page visually. Essential for sighted users who rely on visual cues to navigate with a keyboard.

Screen of the House of Fraser

House of Fraser highlight the selected navigation item with a pink underline, clearly detectable from the text around it.

Only half of the websites implemented ‘skip to’ links so keyboard and screen reader users could also share the privilege of skipping lengthy navigation menus and going straight to the main content. House of Fraser excelled here too. Joules’ skip links were designed to be hidden for sighted users but consequently, sighted keyboard users were unable to take advantage of this functionality.

All retailers were pretty good with use of alternative text with appropriate and descriptive alt tags on images allowing users with visual and cognitive disabilities to access the same content as everybody else.

Providing context to screen reader users is fundamental for those who are not able to visually group information or comprehend it’s meaning from how it’s been presented visually. All retailers at one point or another had links that did not make sense out of context such as Mothercare.com’s use of links such as ”remove” and “edit”.

Screen of the cart

Those unable to see the visuals that the links ”remove” and “edit” sit beneath would struggle to know what these prompts relate to.

Generally, retailers have a visual indication when sizes are out of stock but often there was no verbal notification that a size was out of stock, all sizes would be read out, implying they are available. A screen reader user would be unable to choose a product size, at which point they’d need to either give up or request assistance.

Online retail could be the ideal solution for those who suffer physical difficulties when shopping in store and most retailers had a reassuring accessibility statements full of good intentions but they need to act further on this by implementing WCAG 2.0 to significantly improve accessibility. They should also consult with accessibility and UX experts to fully understand the needs of disabled customers and the technical solutions required to provide accessibility.

If you want to find a digital agency with a background in web development, accessibility, usability, App design and build, feel free to get in touch with the friendly team at focusgov to discuss your project.

About Author

Jordana Jeffrey is a web designer for focusgov, a digital agency whose expertise is in web development, accessibility, usability, App design and build, participation and co-production. Their work for the SEND Local Offer has been noted by the Department of Education as a 'benchmark'.