Why is accessibility important for your online store and how can it increase sales?

Making your eCommerce site accessible for everybody is essential for getting the very best from your visitor numbers and maximising sales, so we’ve put together a guide that’ll teach you what exactly it means and how you can easily make your store more accessible without compromising on features.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility means making sure that every website — including eCommerce stores — are designed to accommodate all visitors, regardless of physical or mental ability, language, location and hardware. The goal of making the web wholly accessible is to reduce the impact of disability through removing barriers to the end goal of your site, whether the user has visual impairments or whether they’re simply using a mobile device.

Why is it important to my business?

Improving accessibility opens up your business to anyone, no matter what device they use, language they speak, and regardless of their ability. This quite simply allows you to sell more.

Better accessibility is great for SEO, and can also help to gain trust from potential customers, as you are showcasing that you care about maximising their online experience.

Accessibility isn’t a new way of generating business, and it has been an integral part of creating and growing a successful eCommerce business since the millennium.

Tesco, for example, launched their online store in 2000, but didn’t fully invest in accessibility until mid-2001. The implementation of simple things such as clear descriptions on links and images, and using a non-column-based layout to aid navigation, helped them increase sales massively over the year, leading to £13 million in sales in 2001.

“Not only do we get the satisfaction of doing the right thing, but it’s a great market opportunity in its own right.” — John Browett, Tesco’s CEO explained during their online store launch

How do I improve accessibility on my store?

There are hundreds of small changes that you can make to your online store, but we’ve compiled the simplest and most effective strategies that you can apply to your business in order to maximise potential.

1. Navigation

One of the hardest things for some visitors to do is find what they’re looking for. Making your site easy to navigate (both with a mouse and with only a keyboard) is essential to improving accessibility. Your customers should be able to use the ‘Tab’ key to cycle through every link on the page, and be able to see where their browser is currently focused. This can be done through amending your website code, which highlights the link with some sort of border or colour change.

2. Contrast

On the point of colour, it’s important to make sure that your site’s colours sufficiently contrast to be readable by anyone, including those who are somewhat visually impaired. A great way to test how impaired visitors will see your site is through the NoCoffee Google Chrome extension, which lets you adjust the settings of your screen to how someone with a vision problem will see your site, so that you can make adjustments accordingly.

3. Always Offer Text

For good levels of accessibility, any kind of purely visual content should always have a text-only equivalent. This means including alternative (known as “alt”) text on images and having closed captions on any video content. Alt text ensures that anyone using a screen reader can also get the information that the image provides, without having to see it. This can also be incredibly useful for anyone with a poor internet connection, where images may not load properly.

4. Make It Big, then Make It Small

Having a large eCommerce store full of hundreds of products is brilliant, but big sites can become slow, and therefore less accessible to anyone running a slow connection. There are some simple changes you can make to your store management workflow that will help save your customers valuable seconds, and help you get more sales as a direct result.

Optimising images is an easy way to speed up your site massively, especially if you’re using high quality lifestyle imagery. Running all your product images through a service like Optimizilla costs you absolutely nothing, apart from a few seconds of uploading/redownloading, and could help you get past the low patience threshold of your customers.

A common problem with a lot of eCommerce stores is the installation of too many plugins or external services, which lead to long load times for your visitors, as their browser has to go all over the world to find the files it needs. Try and reduce the amount of plugins your website needs and if possible, host the files yourself to help speed things up.

You can speak to your web developer about minifying all of your site’s CSS and JavaScript files, which can help speed things up by reducing the amount of requests your customer’s browser has to make to your server. This helps reduce the load for both your customer’s connection and your host.

Is Your Store Accessible for Everybody?

By improving your store’s accessibility, you’re helping to keep your current customers happy, as well as widening the scope to accommodate as many new visitors as possible, regardless of their situation. If you need any further help with accessibility on your eCommerce store, feel free to get in touch with us.

Statement are eCommerce specialists and Shopify Experts, based in Leeds and Wakefield in Yorkshire.