E-Commerce Web Accessibility: 2024 Essentials & 20 Tips for Businesses
In today’s rapidly evolving digital marketplace, eCommerce accessibility compliance is not just a luxury—it’s a necessity. In this article we are looking at the many challenges that eCommerce websites face, such as color reliance for information conveyance, inadequate color contrast ratios, keyboard navigation difficulties, and inaccessible online forms. By the end of this article, you will understand the essence of web accessibility and learn essential tips to make your eCommerce website accessible, ensuring compliance with accessibility regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
What is web accessibility?
At its core, web accessibility allows people with disabilities, such as auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual impairments, to effectively use websites and online resources. Web accessibility is guided by the principle of equal access to information and functionality on the web, making it central to inclusive web design. This concept is supported by various legal frameworks, including the WCAG standard and ADA’s Title III, emphasizing the need for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust website content.
The WCAG, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), provides a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following these guidelines helps web developers create content that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users, including those with disabilities. The guidelines are considered the international standard for web accessibility and are often referenced in legal requirements for website accessibility.
In the United States, ADA Title III mandates that places of public accommodation, which includes websites, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. While the ADA does not explicitly mention websites, legal interpretations and various lawsuits have established that websites are included in its scope.. Consequently, businesses with inaccessible websites might face legal challenges, highlighting the importance of ADA compliance in web design. In addition to this law, the United States’ web accessibility landscape also includes Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the newly minted Colorado Accessibility Law, HB 21-1110. You can get a better understanding of the web accessibility landscape in the United States by reading our associated blog post.
Together, WCAG and ADA Title III frame the legal and practical aspects of web accessibility, emphasizing the need for websites and online resources to be inclusive and navigable for all users. By adhering to these standards, website owners not only ensure compliance with legal requirements but also contribute to a more inclusive and equitable internet, enhancing the user experience for a diverse range of individuals. This inclusive approach is particularly crucial in today's digital-first world, where the internet is an essential part of everyday life, commerce, education, and social interaction.
Why is web accessibility important for e-commerce websites?
Web accessibility expands your customer base by ensuring people with disabilities can navigate, understand, and interact with your website. Prioritizing eCommerce accessibility compliance is a strategic business decision with numerous benefits, including expanded market reach, enhanced user experience, improved SEO, and positive brand reflection. Moreover, implementing accessibility features for a website, like clear navigation and legible text, not only benefits those with disabilities but enhances overall user experience and loyalty.
Here are a few considerations:
- Inclusivity and Broader Market Reach: Web accessibility ensures that your eCommerce site is usable by people with a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. By accommodating these diverse needs, you’re not only practicing inclusivity but also tapping into a wider market of potential customers. For instance, optimizing your website for screen readers not only aids visually impaired users but also benefits those who prefer auditory learning.
- Accessibility features not only help people with disabilities but also make websites better for everyone. Things like easy-to-use menus and clear text are good for all users. Adding these features can make customers happier and more loyal.
- Legal Compliance and Risk Mitigation: Various countries have laws and regulations requiring digital accessibility (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S. and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Canada). Non-compliance can lead to legal repercussions, including costly lawsuits and reputational damage. By prioritizing accessibility, eCommerce businesses can mitigate these risks.
- SEO Benefits: Many web accessibility best practices, such as providing alternative text for images and ensuring content is organized and tagged correctly, overlap with search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. This can improve your site’s search engine ranking, making it more visible to potential customers.
- Social Responsibility and Brand Image: Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility reflects positively on your brand’s image. It shows corporate social responsibility, which can strengthen your brand reputation and appeal to socially conscious consumers.
- Improved Conversion Rates: An accessible website can lead to a better user experience, which in turn can increase the likelihood of conversions. When users can navigate your website easily and find what they need without obstacles, they are more likely to complete a purchase.
- Future-Proofing and Technological Advancement: The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and web accessibility standards are becoming increasingly important. By making your eCommerce website accessible now, you're future-proofing your business against upcoming technological changes and ensuring that your site remains usable and relevant.
- Reflecting Diversity and Inclusion Values: In an era where consumers are more aware and appreciative of diversity and inclusion, having an accessible website is a powerful statement. It shows that your business cares about all its customers and is committed to serving a diverse population.
What is ADA compliance?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law enacted in the United States in 1990. This pivotal legislation seeks to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the same opportunities and rights as everyone else. The essence of the ADA is to provide an inclusive and accessible environment for all, regardless of their physical or mental abilities.
What does ADA compliance mean for e-commerce?
ADA compliance in eCommerce, under Title III, is crucial as digital spaces are considered public accommodations. eCommerce ADA compliance involves creating websites that are navigable and usable for people with various disabilities, ensuring accessible design through features like screen reader compatibility, keyboard-only navigation, and audio/video content transcripts.
Here are some key considerations:
- Website Accessibility: It's crucial for e-commerce websites to be accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. This includes ensuring that websites are navigable and usable for people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities.
- Accessible Design: This involves designing websites that can be accessed using screen readers, can be navigated without a mouse (using keyboard-only navigation), and providing captions or transcripts for audio and video content.
- Consistent Evolution: As technology evolves, so do the standards for ADA compliance in the digital sphere. Staying informed and regularly updating your website to be inclusive is not just about compliance, but also about ensuring a positive experience for all users.
- Legal Implications: Non-compliance with ADA standards can lead to legal challenges. Ensuring ADA compliance is not only ethically important but also safeguards against potential litigation.
What is the WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, commonly referred to as WCAG, are a series of recommendations designed to make the internet more accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), particularly by its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), these guidelines are considered the gold standard in accessibility.
The primary aim of the WCAG is to provide a universal standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments worldwide. These guidelines focus on making web content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual impairments.
What are the four principles of WCAG?
WCAG is based on four foundational principles, often summarized as POUR, to ensure web content is:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in ways that users can perceive, meaning that it can't be invisible to all of their senses.
- Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable, meaning that users must be able to operate the interface. This includes accommodating various devices like keyboards and assistive technologies.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable, ensuring that content is clear and limits confusion.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Are there different versions of the WCAG standard?
Yes, the WCAG standard has evolved through several versions to accommodate advancements in technology and better understanding of accessibility needs:
- WCAG 1.0: The first version, introduced in 1999, provided an early framework for web accessibility.
- WCAG 2.0: Released in 2008, it introduced more refined guidelines, focusing on technology neutrality and testable criteria.
- WCAG 2.1: Launched in 2018, this version added more guidelines, particularly addressing mobile accessibility, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
- WCAG 2.2 and Beyond: As web technology continues to evolve, so do the guidelines. Future versions are expected to address emerging needs and technologies. We have addressed this in an associated blog post on what to expect next in web accessibility compliance.
Following WCAG is the best way to ensure a website meets the necessary accessibility standards. This is important for several reasons:
- Legal Compliance: In many regions, following WCAG guidelines is a legal requirement to meet accessibility laws, such as the ADA in the United States.
- Broader Audience Reach: Accessible websites can reach a wider audience, including the estimated one billion people worldwide with disabilities.
- Improved Usability: Accessibility features often improve the overall user experience for all users, not just those with disabilities.
- Corporate Responsibility: Ensuring website accessibility aligns with corporate social responsibility and promotes inclusivity.
WCAG serves as a comprehensive guide for creating web content that is accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. By adhering to these guidelines, website owners and developers can create inclusive digital environments that cater to a diverse audience and comply with legal standards.
How does the WCAG apply to e-commerce?
The WCAG's application to eCommerce is vital for creating an inclusive digital shopping experience. It ensures eCommerce website accessibility, with guidelines for accessible website design, ensuring operability for people with various disabilities, and focusing on mobile accessibility. eCommerce sites must consider the entire shopping experience, from accessible navigation to the checkout process, and provide detailed product accessibility information.
A few key considerations would be as follows:
Here's are a few considerations regarding the way the WCAG applies to e-commerce:
- Accessible Website Design: E-commerce sites must be designed and developed in a way that all content is accessible. This includes text, images, navigation, forms, and video or audio content. For instance, images should have alternative text (alt-text) for screen readers, videos should have captions, and website navigation should be achievable through keyboard-only inputs.
- User Experience for All: WCAG guidelines ensure that the e-commerce website is operable for people with various disabilities. This includes easy navigation for screen reader users, sufficient contrast ratios for users with visual impairments, and simple, intuitive interfaces for users with cognitive disabilities.
- Mobile Accessibility: Given the increasing use of mobile devices for online shopping, WCAG's focus on mobile accessibility is crucial. E-commerce sites must ensure that their mobile versions or apps adhere to accessibility standards, providing features like responsive design and accessible touch targets.
- Checkout Process: The checkout process in e-commerce is a critical component where accessibility can't be overlooked. This includes making forms accessible, providing clear instructions, error messages that are easy to understand and correct, and ensuring that all payment options and processes are accessible.
- Product Accessibility Information: Providing detailed accessibility information about products can be beneficial. For example, descriptions for assistive technologies used by visually impaired customers or compatibility features for hearing aid devices.
Clym helps businesses with their web accessibility compliance by offering a compliance tool that combines data privacy with accessibility needs into one single platform, that seamlessly integrates into any website built with any website builder.
Additionally, our resources on the topic of accessibility will help you understand what is expected of your e-commerce, for example our web accessibility guides on the WCAG 2 or 21 web accessibility resources to help you have an accessible website.
How to implement the WCAG in e-commerce?
To improve e-commerce accessibility, regularly audit your site for WCAG compliance, educate your team on web accessibility, and involve users with disabilities in testing phases. This ensures that your eCommerce site is continually aligned with the latest accessibility standards.
What are some accessibility challenges that e-commerce websites face?
eCommerce websites face unique challenges in balancing aesthetic appeal with functional accessibility. Complex navigation and dynamic content like real-time updates and interactive carts can hinder accessibility, emphasizing the need for careful design and development.
20 tips for e-commerce website accessibility
In the digital age, ensuring your e-commerce website is accessible to all users is not just a moral obligation, but also a business imperative. As we step into 2024, here are 20 key tips to make your online store welcoming for everyone:
- Understand Web Accessibility Standards: Familiarize yourself with WCAG and ADA guidelines.
- User-Friendly Navigation Design: Implement breadcrumb trails and clear menu labels.
- Accessible Website Layouts: Use consistent layouts and a grid system.
- Color Contrast and Visual Design: Ensure high contrast and use tools like WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker.
- Text Readability and Font Usage: Choose readable fonts and allow text resizing.
- Keyboard Navigation: Ensure all site functions are keyboard-accessible.
- Screen Reader Compatibility: Use proper HTML semantics and ARIA labels.
- Alt Text for Images and Media: Provide descriptive alt text for all visuals.
- Video and Multimedia Accessibility: Include captions and transcripts for video content.
- Accessible Forms and Input Fields: Design user-friendly forms with clear labels.
- Error Identification: Provide clear, helpful error messages.
- Consistent, Predictable User Experience: Maintain consistent layouts and functionality.
- Mobile and Responsive Design Accessibility: Ensure your site is accessible on various devices.
- Accessibility Testing Tools: Use tools like Axe and Lighthouse for regular audits.
- Voice Command and Speech Recognition Integration: Adapt for compatibility with virtual assistants.
- Customizable User Interface: Offer options for adjusting color schemes and font sizes.
- Feedback and User Testing: Engage with users with disabilities for real feedback.
- Accessibility Training: Educate your team on the importance of accessibility.
- Stay Updated on Compliance and Policies: Keep informed about legal requirements.
- Stay Updated on Accessibility Trends: Follow developments in accessibility technology.
What happens if my e-commerce website is not web accessible?
Not meeting web accessibility standards can lead to several consequences for your business: alienating potential customers with disabilities, legal repercussions under laws like ADA, and negative impacts on your site's SEO. It's crucial to view eCommerce accessibility compliance as a strategic business decision that opens up your market and aligns your brand with values of inclusivity.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Firstly, you risk alienating a significant portion of potential customers who have disabilities. This exclusion not only results in a direct loss of potential revenue but also hampers the inclusivity of your digital presence. People with disabilities represent a considerable market segment, and by not accommodating their needs, your business misses the opportunity to engage with and benefit from this audience.
Moreover, the lack of accessibility can lead to serious legal repercussions. Under laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses are required to provide equal access to their services, which includes digital platforms like e-commerce sites. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in lawsuits and substantial fines, as seen in increasing litigation in recent years surrounding digital accessibility. These legal challenges not only pose financial risks but can also damage your brand's reputation, impacting customer loyalty and trust.
Additionally, an inaccessible website can negatively impact your site's Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search engines favor websites that provide an accessible experience, as it aligns with their goal of delivering useful and user-friendly content. Therefore, lacking in web accessibility could potentially lower your site's ranking in search results, reducing visibility and traffic.
In essence, ensuring web accessibility is not just a legal obligation but also a strategic business decision. It opens up your market, enhances customer experience, and aligns your brand with values of inclusivity and equal access, all while safeguarding against legal and reputational risks.
How Clym supports e-commerce accessibility
Clym provides tools to enhance eCommerce website accessibility, adhering to WCAG 2.1 standards and offering customizable user settings. Their solutions aim to improve website traffic, increase conversion rates, and avoid accessibility-related legal issues. Clym integrates these features into a user-friendly platform, helping businesses manage their website's compliance needs effectively.
Want to see for yourself? Speak to one of our experts today!
FAQs on e-commerce web accessibility
What is Web Accessibility in E-Commerce?
Web accessibility ensures that people with disabilities can effectively use eCommerce websites. It involves making your website navigable and understandable for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
Why is Web Accessibility Important for E-Commerce Websites?
Web accessibility in e-commerce expands your customer base, improves SEO, ensures legal compliance, enhances brand image, and increases conversion rates.
What is ADA Compliance in E-Commerce?
ADA compliance involves creating e-commerce websites that are navigable and usable for people with disabilities, ensuring features like screen reader compatibility and keyboard-only navigation.
What is the WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a series of recommendations designed to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
What are the Four Principles of WCAG?
The principles are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).
How Does WCAG Apply to E-Commerce?
It ensures eCommerce websites are accessible, focusing on accessible design, user experience, mobile accessibility, accessible checkout processes, and product accessibility information.
What Happens if My E-Commerce Website is Not Web Accessible?
You risk alienating customers with disabilities, face legal repercussions under laws like ADA, and negatively impact your site's SEO.
What are 20 Tips for E-Commerce Website Accessibility?
Tips include understanding web accessibility standards, user-friendly navigation design, accessible layouts, color contrast, text readability, keyboard navigation, screen reader compatibility, alt text for images, video accessibility, accessible forms, error identification, consistent user experience, mobile design accessibility, using testing tools, integrating voice commands, customizable interfaces, user feedback, accessibility training, staying updated on compliance and policies, and following accessibility trends.