Whether you are a cereal maker, a car manufacturer, or a B2B tech re-seller, it is no longer enough to keep your eyes solely on your P&L. Doing the right thing on an evolving set of social issues and causes – from sustainability to social justice – is now a business imperative. Consumers, other companies and even law enforcement agencies are watching how firms behave with a sharply critical eye, demanding real-world action – not just press releases and promises. One key area of focus in this move toward “purposeful” commerce is accessibility – making products and services easier to use for the blind and deaf, those on the autism spectrum, and people with a range of other disabilities. And the incentives to do better are more than just good feelings; according to www.law.com, more than 2,800 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2021 – a 14 percent increase over 2020.
You might not think that e-commerce sites could be hotbeds of accessibility troubles – but you would need to think again. Accessibility is not a new issue for online sellers; 16 years ago, the National Federation for the Blind sued Target over accessibility, and the retail giant forked over $6 million in damages. But web retailers are still all over the map when it comes to accessibility awareness and compliance – and the time for claiming ignorance has passed. If you are responsible for an e-comm site of any sort, you are potentially vulnerable, and the time to make things right is now.
The good news is that there are many other good reasons – apart from fear of your local DA – for taking on accessibility. Research shows that making almost any hardware or software more accessible also benefits non-disabled customers, through enhanced usability and other improvements. Semantic HTML – a must for accessible web content – can increase SEO rankings. And, on a more basic level, being accessible means that you expand your potential customer base exponentially; according to the World Bank, roughly 15 percent of the Earth’s population – about one billion people – have some sort of disability.
So, what do online tech retailers need to do to make sure they are keeping pace with accessibility needs and requirements? The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) regularly updates its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which have become the standard for making sites of all types usable for everyone. According to the WCAG:
- Text, images, videos, and other content need to be easily legible.
- Videos and photos should have closed captioning and/or “alt text” for the visually impaired.
- Key documents should be readily accessible as PDF files.
- Users should have the ability to resize text, and sites should avoid images with too much text.
- Pages should have foreign language attributes
Some global tech retailers and brands have gotten ahead of the accessibility issue, setting strong examples of what to do and when. Best Buy insists that all vendor-provided images cannot include embedded text, and that vendor videos must include closed captioning and transcripts. Noncompliant images and videos are routinely removed.
Among manufacturers, HP has dedicated a whole section on their site to accessibility – not only ensuring an accessible website but accessible technologies for their customers. They have implemented extensive supplier requirements to establish compliance with laws and regulations governing product design. Additionally, they have customer service agents to provide support and assistance for HP product users after the product has been delivered.
As the world’s leading product content aggregator, GfK Etilize works with retailers and brands to be sure they are providing shoppers with disabilities the accommodations they need and deserve. We also help clients stay a step ahead of today’s regulations, making sure that simple improvements like providing alt-text for images does not cost companies money and legal hassles.
Whether you are a manufacturer or a seller, the best approach to accessibility is to put yourself in the user’s shoes. Make sure you would feel at home and well served by your online commerce content and apps – and take a vigorous approach if anything seems amiss. Keep a watch for changes in requirements and regulations, which are always evolving. And be consistent in your accessibility strategy; haphazard approaches often yield unneeded headaches. Above all, recognize and lean into the benefits of accessibility – for all of your valued shoppers and for your company’s future success.
Lloyd Wood is director of sales for GfK Etilize. Leah Minasian is business development coordinator at GfK Etilize. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.