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John Lewis & Boots lead improvements in ecommerce accessibility

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John Lewis’s website offers its customers the best levels of accessibility out of the top UK high street retailers, says the new 2009 Ecommerce Accessibility Report, with Boots showing the most drastic improvement in the sector.

John Lewis topped the study of nineteen leading retailer websites with a score of 74%, moving from 4th to 1st place with a rise of 1% from last year. The report also revealed that Boots was the outstanding mover having gone from joint 17th last year to 2nd place with a score of 72%, an improvement of 35% from the previous study.

The report, produced by user experience consultancy Webcredible, also gives guidance to online retailers on how to improve a site to make it accessible to users with a broad range of disabilities. The guidelines that need improvement are much the same as last year and include:

  • Using appropriate alternative text for images

  • Not embedding text within images, so that it can be resized properly

  • Providing skip links to get to the main content more easily

“After only achieving a low average accessibility score of 56.8% a year ago, the ecommerce industry has seen a general improvement in accessibility achieving an average score of 61.6% in 2009,” say the researchers. “The main reason for this improvement is that only one retailer scored lower than 50%, compared to seven in last year’s report. This shows that more top retailers are paying greater attention to the basics of accessibility, such as descriptive page titles, headings and links, and text resizing options.”

The top score of 74% is 2% lower than last year, however, and seven of the 19 retailers have achieved lower scores in 2009. This suggests, the researchers conclude, that “as they add new features and functionality to compete in the increasingly competitive online market place, the accessibility of their websites is suffering slightly.”

The improvement in accessibility is most obvious in the case of Boots, but other big improvements were seen with WHSmith climbing from 16th place to 11th, improving its score from 41 to 61, and Debenhams which climbed from equal 17th to equal 12th place with an improvement of 19%. Last year’s top three sites — H Samuel, HMV and B&Q — find themselves in 9th, equal 4th and 6th respectively in this year’s report.

Trenton Moss, a director at Webcredible, comments, “Accessibility has unsurprisingly risen up the agenda for many retailers in the past year and sites like Boots have demonstrated that the improvements were there to be made. The average score for every guideline has improved, but the main reason for dropped points is still inconsistency, with many retailers applying accessibility guidelines to some pages but not others.”

He continued, “There are legal requirements for the accessibility of websites set out by the Disability Discrimination Act and if these are not met, then companies could find themselves in trouble. Besides, the basics of accessibility go hand-in-hand with usability and search engine optimisation, meaning that an accessible website can help boost your online presence and sales with all user groups, not just disabled people.”

A copy of the full report can be downloaded free of charge from the Webcredible website.

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