From conversion opportunities lost to negative impacts on your business’ reputation to the potential of fines, ignoring accessibility for your e-commerce website can result in real costs to your business.

In many cases, these barriers are unintentional. In some cases, those barriers become intentional when they’re pointed out and not acted upon. After all, you may think, people with disabilities may only represent a fraction of our total customer base.

But, as we’ve mentioned before ( investing in accessibility extends so far beyond just meeting the needs of those who require adaptive technologies, that it only makes sense to embrace accessibility in everything your business does.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. Yes, in certain jurisdictions (Ontario, for example, and various places in the U.S. where ADA compliance is mandated), there are legal obligations to meet WCAG 2.0 AA compliance levels. In Ontario alone, the entire province is expected to meet AODA-defined accessibility standards by 2025. To date, fines and legal actions have been rare, but that can change.

Simply put, e-commerce websites are the primary source of all accessibility-related lawsuits in the U.S. According to a 2022 year-end report, approximately one-fifth of the top 500 e-commerce sites received a lawsuit in 2022 – and 78 percent of the top 500 received an ADA-based digital lawsuit since 2018. Over three-quarters of all digital accessibility, lawsuits are filed relating to e-commerce.

Now, we generally don’t like to lead with threats of lawsuits and fines, because that’s not the primary reason why you should embrace accessibility. As referenced in our earlier piece, accessibility is truly for all – it increases the usability of your site, supports the findability of your content, and it can make it easier for people to quickly and easily understand your message and transition to a transaction.

So what are the most common issues e-commerce sites tend to present?

  • Focus management: developing interactive components that don’t allow the user to interact with parts of the interface which are expanded, revealed, or dynamically created. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, modals and popups, calendar widgets, and functionality which adds new fields dynamically when the user clicks a button
  • Controls which aren’t focusable: for example, options on a wish list dropdown
  • Lack of labels on form inputs, buttons, controls, and links: these present as elements that do not include accessible names or alt-text to indicate their purpose
  • A lack of bypass mechanisms for repeated content/interfaces across the site, such as product listing filters
  • Inconsistency in naming conventions: the same action on different parts of the site may be tagged with different terms, such as “log in,” “sign in,” and “login”
  • Multiple links with identical naming conventions despite serving different purposes. An example of this is the ever-present “read more” links, which do not provide users (or search engines) with appropriate context

    There are other considerations in the e-commerce world that merit being viewed through an accessibility lens. For example, on e-commerce sites, navigation menus tend to be larger and more complex. It’s important to remember that these interfaces must be fully operable via keyboard.

    As well, it’s important from an e-commerce perspective that users requiring adaptive technology are able to have confidence in their execution of your processes. Checkout and form submissions are primary examples where, absent a mechanism that allows users to review, confirm, and correct information before clicking “submit” is key.

    And remember, alignment to accessibility best practices has the convenient benefit of aligning with best practices for mobile development and search engine optimization. Essentially, if you’re building with accessibility in mind, you’re supporting those trying to find your site and use your site on mobile. Chances are that’s an audience to whom you want to cater the best possible experience – and that’s an experience that is built upon a foundation of accessibility.

    At Northern Commerce, our team is well-versed in digital accessibility and can support your efforts – whether they be compliance-mandated or just an embrace of good business principles. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you meet your accessibility goals.