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Ensuring a Truly Accessible Holiday Shopping Experience

Posted December 15, 2023


Posted December 15, 2023

An icon of a shopping cart with an accessibility icon on the corner. A mouse cursor is poised over the icon.
An icon of a shopping cart with an accessibility icon on the corner. A mouse cursor is poised over the icon.

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In this post, Marche Roberson, one of AudioEye's A11iance community members, explains the importance of accessibility when shopping online and shares tips on making e-commerce websites accessible for the holidays.

The holiday season is here again. It's time for reading books by the fire with mugs of decadent hot cocoa. It's time for decorating and filling the house with the smell of freshly baked goodies. Most importantly, it's time to burn a hole in your pocket for great deals on the web.

I don't know about you, but in past years, I’ve been the one to wait in queues on many different websites. Every gamer remembers the year PlayStation 5 debuted. Some tracking sites send alerts to people hoping to snag a deal, but everyone gets those alerts. Everyone is scouring the internet to have a chance to grab items that will make their loved ones' day. This is why web accessibility is so important to remember.

When shopping online, my experience has been mixed. Of course, I have my favorite sites, social media platforms, and main e-commerce websites that allow me to shop accessibly, but new sites that aren’t digitally accessible come online every day. I enjoy returning to my favorite sites because they will have detailed descriptions and excellent alt text. Alt text also allows me to enjoy a product or a scene without being able to see it. I want to experience the "aww" factor when viewing something cute online or getting thirsty just by looking or reading a description of a big cup of hot cocoa with all the trimmings. When these things are absent, I can still make an educated guess about what things are. It brings the enjoyment level down. It is not a deal breaker, however. The absence of descriptions and the inability to add something to a cart or select the correct button on a page will deflate my shopping spirit. Over the years, I’ve encountered countless sites that are overrun by ads, making it hard to jump right to the product I initially came to the page for. The alt text, the descriptions, the ads, and the hope that if I switch browsers, the site will work are where the challenge of shopping online is most present.

A stylized version of an e-commerce site printed on the side of a shopping bag, with an accessibility icon in the corner.

Importance of Web Accessibility for an Enjoyable Shopping Experience

People with varying disabilities make up about 10% of all online spending. Web accessibility allows users of all abilities to navigate a website easily and ensures a smooth and inclusive experience. It can be an alternative method for people to buy what they need and have it delivered, as well as for people with difficulty with crowds. As a blind online shopper, I depend on web accessibility to see all the options a store has to offer. When a website is accessible, it allows me to shop without having to find assistance in the store or phone a friend to help me get necessities independently (you can't exactly ask a friend to help buy a surprise gift for themselves).

Web accessibility is reading buttons and ensuring everything has a label. It is being able to jump by headings to locate products on a page quickly. It is making sure that people have the option to color-contrast websites for easier reading. Ensuring dialogs open and can be viewed for a video or a carousel of pictures. Web accessibility ensures anyone can navigate a website just like everyone else.

As technology grows, more and more people are shopping online, ordering groceries, clothing, pet supplies, and more. If you stop and think about it, how many times a week do you find yourself on your phone? With the ease of buying a pizza with just your face recognition and patience for the meal to arrive at your location, the only question is, why not?

Ways to Make Your Site More Accessible

If I could give any advice, it would be this:

First, take the time to give an image a proper alt-text description this holiday season. If Bluetooth headphones are on sale, don't just settle with the color scheme. In the accompanying image, describe how someone is wearing a pair of headphones. Explain how the microphone is on the left side of the person's face.

Secondly, describe everything. Describe the color, the picture when possible, and material for clothes. Describe the stitching, style, and model wearing the outfit so blind users can decide whether something will fit their body structure without having to order it to try it on. Make toys sound fun. I will always be a big kid, and that kid in me wants to know that I can push all the buttons and make things happen.

Lastly, ensure websites are accessible. Make it a priority.

A stylized product card of a t-shirt, with alt text that reads "Women's plain pink cotton t-shirt."

How AudioEye is Making a Difference

Working with AudioEye has been one of the best things I have done in 2023. As a digital accessibility consultant, I check websites for accessibility problems under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. With only 3% of the web accessible, newly accessible websites always bring excitement. It means the word is getting out there to people and companies to be more accessible. It has lessened some anxiety that I did not realize I had. I know now that using those buttons, headings, and ease of navigating menus is possible. AudioEye makes it possible.

Every year, people receive magazines and catalogs with discounts and coupon codes. Those don't help people with visual impairments, but getting emailed deals helps. Going to different websites and viewing daily discounts and sales does help. Without web accessibility, holiday shopping would not be as easy. I count on web accessibility to help me research the latest advent calendars for my family members every year. With web accessibility, providing an inclusive holiday season for all is possible.

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