Accessibility Review of Online Retailers: Round Up

27 January 2017 - Natalie Simpson

Woman purchasing online

Over the past week, we conducted 6 mini accessibility audits of popular online retail stores. Our aim was to help raise awareness of online accessibility by taking a quick look at how well these brands conformed to WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

We came across some very interesting and surprising results and gained an insight into the main barriers disabled users face when shopping online. There were several common themes across the board, but first let’s look at the scores and who came out on top:

Position Retailer Score

1 House of Fraser 3/5

1 Boots 3/5

2 Tesco 2.5/5

2 Mothercare 2.5/5

3 Not on The High Street 1/5

3 Joules 1/5

Unfortunately, all of the sites reviewed would fail a WCAG 2.0 Level AA audit (this will open in a new window)in their present state. This means that disabled users would have difficulty in buying a product on each of the sites, with half of the sites inhibiting users completely at a specific point in their journey. Thankfully, most of the improvements only require small changes however, there are areas that will require additional effort long term.

Common Themes

Ensuring your site is accessible to all audiences is key to providing a truly user friendly experience. Sadly, across all 6 sites we looked at there were a number of common themes occurring.

Visible Focus

This navigational technique highlights where the user is on the page visually. This is essential for sighted keyboard users who rely on visual cues to navigate. Across our retailers, we had mixed results. House of Fraser lead the way with clear and consistent visible focus making it easy for users to navigate easily and effectively. Other retailers had a mix of custom, default or no focus at all in parts. Default browser focus is deemed as not sufficient as this can be unclear and inconsistent between browsers.

‘Skip to’ Links

We were disappointed to find that only half of the sites had implemented ‘skip to’ links meaning that keyboard users would repeatedly have to go through lengthy navigation menus across the sites. It is important that ‘skip to’ links are not only present but executed correctly. One of our retailers, Joules, had more than one ‘skip to’ link but as these were not visible on focus, sighted keyboard users would not be able to take advantage of this functionality. House of Fraser was a great example of a site that had clear ‘skip to’ links.

Providing context to screen reader users

This is fundamental for screen reader users who are not able to visually group information together or understand meaning through visible presentation. Information and relationships must be therefore associated programmatically. Examples of this from our retailers included:

  • Form fields need to have associated labels. This was a persistent issue across all retailers. Some sites such as frustratingly had correctly implemented this in some areas and not others, meaning inconsistent access to information for our screen reader users.
  • All retailers at one point or another had links that did not make sense out of context. Common examples found were ‘show more’ and ‘edit’.
  • When selecting product options such as size and colour, some of our retailers did not provide screen reader users with all the information they need in order to make the purchase. For retailers such as House of Fraser and Joules, an example of this was not providing details of a certain size being out of stock. This means that a screen reader user would have to either give up or ask for assistance at this stage.

Summary and next steps

It was only recently that the BBC highlighted that the physical retail space needs to improve for disabled users. Physical accessibility in store can be challenging, online retail therefore can be seen as the ideal solution. Unfortunately, opting to shop online with the six retailers reviewed does not appear to be the answer for a cross section of disabled people.

It was reassuring to see that the majority of our retailers had an area on their site dedicated to accessibility, which is a really positive starting point. They had also attempted to implement accessible features on their extensive sites. It is important now to build on these great intentions and implement WCAG 2.0 increasing accessibility across their sites.

We recommend that all retailers consult with accessibility and UX experts who fully understand the needs of disabled people. Retailers should perform usability testing with disabled people to ascertain that the site is usable as much as it compliant to WCAG standards.

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