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Online shopping ‘not as inclusive as it should be,’ new research finds

The websites of six popular UK retailers would not achieve the basic standard of online content accessibility, according to new research by a usability consultancy.

After a series of ‘mini-accessibility audits,’ accessibility design consultancy User Vision found that some online shoppers with impairments would have difficulty purchasing items from each of the websites examined, due to a number of common barriers.

The retailers chosen for the study were selected “to cover as many segments of the market as possible,” Marie Moyles, a UX (user experience) analyst at User Vision, told e-Access Bulletin. The six stores were as follows, in order of the accessibility score awarded in the research: House of Fraser (scoring 3/5); Boots (3/5); Tesco (2.5/5); Mothercare (2.5/5); Not on the High Street (1/5); and Joules (1/5).

“We wanted to select a range of stores which were well known, trusted and provided a variety of products for differing budgets and tastes,” Moyles said.

User Vision claims that, “in their present state”, all of the sites would fail testing for Level AA of WCAG (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 – widely seen as the benchmark for online accessibility.

The accessibility audits focused on the experience of blind screen-reader users and sighted keyboard-only users – specifically on the ‘user journeys’ when browsing and purchasing products through the six sites. Aspects of WCAG 2.0 were then used as an indicator of the websites’ accessibility levels.

Common accessibility barriers found during the testing included a lack of consistent visible focus (which helps sighted keyboard-only users track their place on a webpage) and a lack of ‘skip to’ links (especially important for screen-reader users to quickly navigate to relevant content).

Moyles told e-Access Bulletin that the main barrier uncovered in the testing was a difficulty in providing context for screen-reader users. “It is important to remember that those who rely on screen-readers are unable to visually group information together or understand meaning through visible presentation,” she said.

Speaking about the key findings from the audits, Moyles said: “The main message was that, unfortunately, shopping online is not as inclusive as it could and should be. There is still some way to go in improving the accessibility of online stores.”

Although User Vision says that none of the sites achieved WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard from the mini-audits, Moyles said that the majority of the sites were “aware of accessibility” and had attempted to implement some accessible features. “The most important thing to consider is that the issues we came across are actually quite easy to correct,” said Moyles.

Asked what retailers should be doing to improve online accessibility, Moyles said: “Retailers should be investing in usability testing with disabled people to ascertain that the site is usable as much as it is compliant to WCAG standards.”

Read more about the study at the User Vision website: .


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