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Inaccessible websites cost retailers and UK businesses more than £411bn during the pandemic: Purple Tuesday research

Design for life: ecommerce needs to be accessible to all – and that means careful design

Inaccessible websites cost retailers and other UK businesses more than £411bn during the pandemic, new research suggests. Almost one in three disabled people had difficulties using websites at the peak of the pandemic, according to a study from Purple. 

The figures have been released to mark today’s annual Purple Tuesday, the campaign to improve the customer experience for disabled people. The study questioned 836 people identifying as disabled in January 2021 and 1,001 in August 2021, and found that 15% said they had problems reading websites, while 18% gave up on using a site. The result was that 54% of those who had difficulties then abandoned their plans to spend money. 

So far this year, more than 5,000 organisations have used Purple Tuesday 2021 to commit to making practical changes that improve the disabled customer experience. Now Purple is calling on still more organisations to look again at the way they serve disabled customers – and win a share of the £274bn that disabled shoppers and their families have available to spend.

Mike Adams,founder and creator of Purple Tuesday, says: “Like everyone else, businesses had to adapt during the pandemic. There were countless examples of companies completely overhauling their offer almost overnight to stay successful. We therefore know it can be done, and now there are no excuses not to make changes to meet the needs of disabled people. Often the adjustments required are small and the financial rewards great, particularly as the benefits can usually be felt by all customers.

“Purple Tuesday this year, coming as it does in the wake of a pandemic and at a pivotal moment in the Climate Emergency, is about instilling a similar sense of urgency and making it unacceptable for those serious about economic recovery to ignore disabled people in 2021.” 

Purple Tuesday is sponsored by eBay, which is calling on its sellers to make changes in how they list and describe their items in order to make them more accessible to a wider audience. 

Eve Williams, chief marketing officer of eBay UK, says: “Purple Tuesday is important to eBay because our purpose as a business is to create economic opportunity for all, and accessibility is a fundamental pillar of that. We’ve made great progress over the last 10 years or so, and through partnering with Purple we’re committing to continually adapt and evolve our site as we progress on this journey with them.

“We know that small changes can make a world of difference to people with a disability who use our platform, and we would encourage any retailers with an online presence especially to do the same.”

Practical steps to make websites more accessible

eBay suggests offering alternative text for icons and images, in order to give a textual description of images for people with site loss. Keyboard access through the site helps people who find it hard to use a mouse. Clearly labelling form elements ensures they can be understood by those with cognitive disabilities and those using a screen reader. Good colour contrast across both websites and apps helps those with vision issues, while recommendations also include avoiding small font sizes, using plain but descriptive language, avoiding light colours in text and keeping any animations simple. 

Dale Rawlins, general manager at Sofab Sports, a community interest company that sells sportswear and employs young adults with disabilities, says keeping websites simple is key. 

“We have three eBay stores,” says Rawlins, “so it’s essential when switching between each that the website is clearly labelled, without overly complicated text or images. That’s exactly what eBay does. It’s accessible and clear, meaning it’s easy to log in and out when checking warehouse stock. But of course, it’s not only about our staff, it’s about the customers who may also have difficulties too. This Purple Tuesday, I hope other websites recognise the importance of inclusivity and the impact of the ‘Purple pound’, and follow eBay’s lead to improve the online experience of disabled people.” 

In-store changes are also included in Purple’s research. The same proportion (19%) of respondents said they had problems with communication as with physical accessibility, while 40% said masks and social distancing – introduced to protect against Covid-19 – also made life more difficult. 

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