About 17% of EU enterprises conducted e-sales using only websites or apps in 2021 according to European statistics agency Eurostat (opens in new window). Depending on country the ratio may even be over 30% (Lithuania and Ireland). It’s without a doubt an indication of how important it is to be able to shop online. And if we consider people with disabilities it’s often even more important. Saving not only time and money but also potential problems with transportation, communication and so on. We only have about 100 weeks until European Accessibility Act at the moment, but every online store I use still has a lot of obvious accessibility issues.
Call it professional deformation (tendency to look at things from my accessibility auditor perspective) or just curiosity, but I see problems on almost all online commerce sites. Missing alternative text, wrong alternative text, missing or wrong code semantics important to screen-readers, poor contrasts, missing focus outlines, interactions possible only with mouse or touch but not with keyboard and so on. I am enough experienced to understand that there are no perfect websites or apps when it comes to accessibility, but when businesses are so obviously inaccessible it shows.
Not easy to get numbers about people with disabilities abandoning online shops
It really isn’t easy to get relevant numbers about people with disabilities abandoning websites and online shops when they are not accessible. The first thing to remember is that we can’t track usage of assistive technologies reliably and therefore we can’t really know what share of people abandoning site are people with disabilities. Assistive technologies are like a layer on top of browser or operating system, so it’s not possible to track it with scripts reliably. Native mobile applications are something else, but tracking users there is anyway a whole other world compared to web.
We can ask the people though. That can give us an estimate if we ask enough people and if we trust their answers. One study that is often used as a reference is the Click-Away Pound (opens in new window). Study in 2016 was done after the survey of 362 participants with 280 being from UK and 82 from overseas. 362 people isn’t a lot, but it gives some insight. 71% of people with disabilities “clicked away” when site had barriers. Click-Away Pound survey was repeated in 2019 and they reported that the results compared with 2016 were still not encouraging. The difference in 2019 was only 2% less people, so in 2019 69% of people with disabilities “clicked away” when site had barriers.
So where did I get the 14% in the title? Well if we presume that 20% of all people have a disability and about 70% of them don’t do business with inaccessible site we come to 14%. And that is not covering people with temporary or situational disabilities. Does this mean that having and accessible website will generate 14% more profit? No, it’s not so simple. But it’s a fact that it will improve the reach. Visiting a site, browsing the offers, daydreaming about buying something, checking prices and so on doesn’t automatically mean profit.
If stakeholders invest to harvest the potentials of on-site SEO, performance and other improvements to a site they should really not neglect accessibility even if they don’t really believe it’s the right thing to do (as they should).
I hope we could get more studies like this, I also hope number of participants would be more diverse and from the whole EU and I will check if we can do something about it. I also believe that surveys like this one should be done regularly and systematically, so that we could have better arguments for accessibility when facing stakeholders that require business oriented motivation. Unfortunately it’s obvious that majority of e-commerce stakeholders don’t have the awareness and knowledge needed, otherwise their web shops would certainly be more accessible.