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GUEST COMMENT Retailers Are Losing Billions Due To Inaccessible Websites

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Do you know how many people with disabilities visit your website?

Unless you sell wheelchairs or hearing aids, you probably wouldn’t even know where to start to answer this question. Tracking metrics for people with vision, hearing and mobility impairments isn’t something you’ll find within most analytics software.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 adults live with a disability in the United States. Worldwide, it’s estimated that more than 1 billion people have some form of a disability. So chances are that a large percentage of your website visitors are not getting the best experience. In fact, many of these users  can’t access your website at all if it’s not coded properly for assistive devices.

Making the internet accessible benefits everyone, not just people who are disabled. Many disabilities progress slowly, such as hearing and vision loss as we age. For example, someone with a mild hearing impairment may not need hearing aids, but they could benefit from video captioning.

It’s also important to remember that not all disabilities are permanent. If you would ever need to recover from eye surgery, you may appreciate temporarily using a screen reader to browse websites and place online orders.

Accessibility Affects Bounce Rates

Many people have disabilities that progress slowly, are age related or degenerative resulting in needing additional online accessibility support. For example, according to SimilarWeb data published last August, bounce rates for the ecommerce industry average 41.7%. While bounce rates can be related to numerous reasons such as slow page loading times or unrelated searches, accessibility barriers are undoubtedly a large contributing factor. 

For example, people with epilepsy and other types of disorders that cause seizures are sensitive to animations; this includes carousels or sliders that continually loop. If these types of visitors don’t have a way to pause the animations on your site, they’re very likely to ‘bounce’. But you’ll never know this from your analytics data because there’s no way to track it.

Popular assistive technologies like JAWS and NVDA screen readers also experience problems on most ecommerce sites. It’s not uncommon for these users to visit a site and the navigation menu is nowhere to be found. It’s impossible for them to visit another page within the site. Website shopping carts and popups are problematic well. Checkout buttons throughout the purchase process either aren’t tagged correctly or never appear and many popups don’t offer screen readers a way to exit from them. Visitors have no option but to leave and never come back.

Falling into the accessibility gap

The problems outlined here affect websites of all sizes, but the tides are quickly shifting. Large retailers like Amazon and Target have hired teams of accessibility experts and invested millions to make their sites fully accessible. Large-scale online retailers have also become targets for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits, which has led most to implement major initiatives to make their sites accessible.

The same can’t be said for small to medium businesses. Not only are most not familiar with the legal requirements surrounding accessibility, but they aren’t aware it’s a problem on their sites at all. This situation is causing SMBs to lose millions of customers to the big players and it also puts them at risk of getting sued. But there is a bright side to this story. Once SMB leaders realize this is such a serious problem, it’s not hard to bridge the gap. Automated accessibility solutions can quickly make a site accessible – permanently. 

Tracking an invisible audience

Userway, the company I co-founded, specialises in AI-based solutions for website accessibility. Our widget works by correcting a site’s code before it’s delivered to a user’s browser. The widget gives all users a way to customise sites, such as by making text larger or switching to a dyslexia-friendly font.

To help retailers understand the true cost of an inaccessible website, we looked at the activation data from the 1.4 million websites where our widget has been installed, we then combined it with published data about bounce rates and sales to create a whitepaper. Based on our findings, most retailers should expect at least a 0.4% boost in sales conversions by making their sites fully accessible. With our research, we  were also able to determine averages for how much money retailers are losing annually and during the holidays due to inaccessible websites.

Estimates of inaccessibility-related sales losses

Statista reported that in 2020, more than two billion people purchased goods or services online, with ecommerce sales surpassing $4.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide. But when you account for inaccessible websites, we estimate that more than $16.8 billion in global ecommerce sales are being lost annually.

Accessible websites could also make the holiday shopping season a little brighter. In the 2021 Adobe Holiday Shopping Forecast, total online holiday ecommerce spending is projected to reach $207 billion. But by removing digital accessibility barriers, the total could increase by $828 million. And from Thanksgiving through to Cyber Monday, roughly $113 million could have been added to retailer’s balance sheets.

Financial Losses from Legal Actions

You may be able to disregard the estimated sales losses from inaccessibility, but there’s no denying that the businesses getting sued for web-related ADA violations are hurting financially. In 2014, only 18 lawsuits were filed for this reason. But, in 2021 this number jumped to more than 5,000 lawsuits. The average cost for a business to defend itself in court is between $10k-$50k, which doesn’t account for fines and website remediation. Most businesses are advised by their legal teams to settle because it’s less expensive than trying to win their cases.

Who Should Fix This Problem?

It’s easy to want to blame web developers and website platforms like Wix, WordPress and Squarespace for not making sites accessible from the beginning. Writing code for screen readers and other assistive technologies should be implemented from the start. However, that still won’t guarantee a site remaining accessible.

Most people who add content to websites are not accessibility experts. They’re not going to know the correct way to write labels for every button or how much alt-text is needed for photos.

The large website building platforms are at a disadvantage as well because they generally don’t control the design templates their users are deploying. Independent designers and developers have made millions of themes for WordPress alone and so there is no way it can ensure all of those templates are accessible.

Ultimately, every business must decide how it will address website accessibility.

How to Make Your Site Accessible

There are two basic ways to make a website accessible: hire an accessibility expert to make corrections by hand or use an automated solution. Automated tools are generally quicker and less expensive, but the quality of their results vary wildly from one company to the next. UserWay employs a human-in-the-loop approach, which allows our customers and team to make changes to the button labels and photo descriptions the AI writes. It’s the best of both worlds.

Regardless of what solution you choose, the first step is finding out what needs to be fixed. The easiest way is to use an accessibility scanner. Once you submit your website’s url, it will scan your site and create an itemised list of violations. Your team can then use the report as a roadmap to make your website accessible.


Allon Mason, Co-Founder and CEO of UserWay

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