Accessibility is about more than just compliance

As seen on The Future of Commerce Blog:

It is safe to say that things will never be the same after COVID-19. Nobody knows how long it will take and what the final economic toll will be, but we are all going to need to get used to a “new normal” for a while to come.  Many of us expected to go back to normal within a few months but it is now likely to be some time before we do.  But what does this “new normal” look like?  How will it change how we shop online and interact with brands?

With many countries in the world imposing some level of lockdown or restrictions, the pandemic has, unsurprisingly, seen a huge rise in e-commerce sales and significantly increased the importance of digital customer experience.  With non-essential stores closed for a period of time in many countries, digital has been the only channel with which many brands can engage with their customers. While this has often not fully compensated for the loss of retail sales, it has helped many brands survive.  This has led many brands to shift their investment into digital experiences to help maximise the growth in e-commerce.

Another consequence of the pandemic is that it has driven many people, who would have rarely shopped online previously, to now start doing so.

Many governments have advised elderly or vulnerable people to self-isolate for long periods of time and to minimise their contact with others, which has resulted in many people significantly reducing or completely ceasing their visits to retail stores.  Without being able to shop in-store, many within this group have turned to e-commerce – sometimes for the first time ever.

A recent survey carried out by Statista and released in August 2020 showed that the use of online shopping in those aged over 65 in the UK jumped to 65% in 2020, up from 54% the year before.  I would be confident that the increase will be even bigger by the end of 2020.  While statistics show that online shopping in this age group has been growing year on year for some time, the jump in 2020 was very noticeable.

The one thing we don’t yet know is how changes in behaviour that have been enforced by the pandemic will continue once it has finished.  Only time will tell but it is generally accepted that it is likely to have some kind of long-term effect on consumer behaviours.  A case in point is my elderly mother-in-law.  Before the pandemic, she had never shopped online and would have considered it far too complicated to do so.  COVID-19 forced her to isolate and, with little ability to safely shop for groceries herself, she ventured into the world of online grocery shopping and was amazed when bags of food were delivered to her door a few days later.  While she often calls my wife asking for help when she is ‘stuck’ on a website, she says that she will never go back.

This change in behaviour poses UX designers with a new challenge.

It is safe to say that accessibility is primarily viewed as a compliance requirement, similar to regulations such as GDPR.  While it is true that accessibility and usability can go hand-in-hand, I do not believe that many brands consider accessibility as something that will have a significant impact on KPIs such as conversion rate or average order value.  Before the pandemic, I would probably have agreed but now, I am not so sure.  Brands will often create personas of different customer groups to help them understand how these different personas will interact with them.  I suspect that many brands don’t seriously consider, and design for, personas of elderly or disabled customers, yet this is now a huge group of customers who are now much more likely to shop online.

Many of you reading this article will have shopped online for groceries.  Most grocery websites pack as many products onto the screen as possible, cramming as much as they can into that valuable real estate.  Going through the checkout, you are often bombarded with offers and suggestions; much the same as when you visit supermarkets in person.  Supermarket margins are extremely low and therefore they try everything they can to get you to convert and increase your order value.  Those customers who are used to shopping online are able to navigate through this experience, but it can be very daunting for those customers who are not.

You may have seen telephones like this before, or even bought one for an elderly relative.  The buttons are purposefully large for users who may be partially sighted or struggle with their dexterity.  It has a hands-free option and a ‘loud’ button for those users with difficulty hearing.  The phone has a single purpose and is designed to be usable and accessible to a specific group of users.  Can you imagine how daunting it must be navigating through a grocery website for someone who needs to use a telephone like this?  Could some brands benefit from building web experiences like this example?

Covid has abruptly turned a group of customers into new online customers and brands should now start to seriously consider how accessibility affects them.  Accessibility should now change from a compliance requirement to an important business requirement.  Accessibility will now have a much bigger impact on KPIs than ever before.

Using the example of grocery websites, supermarkets should now consider how they could adapt their website to be less busy and complex for this new customer persona.  We are used to websites that allow us to view items in a list or a grid but how about having a web version of that big-buttoned telephone or a checkout that does not bombard these customers with offer after offer but allows them to quickly and seamlessly complete the transaction with just a few clicks?

All brands should now start to consider the importance of accessibility and look to understand this group of customers more.  E-commerce is no longer just the domain of the younger generations.  COVID-19 has brought a whole new and important customer persona to e-commerce so investing in accessible experiences could pay dividends.

Branwell Moffat

Director of CX Consulting

Branwell Moffat is the Director of CX Consulting at KPS Digital in the UK; an award-winning SAP partner and SAP CX SI in London, UK. He’s a highly technical, strategic and business-focused e-commerce consultant and business leader with over 20 years experience helping companies grow their digital businesses to levels of individual revenues in excess of $500 million per year.

During this time he has been the co-founder / manager of Envoy Digital, a successful digital and e-commerce agency and Gold SAP and Hybris Partner based in SW London, UK which was acquired by KPS in early 2018.

His career has been spent consulting on, architecting and sponsoring the development of a large number of enterprise e-commerce solutions for a range of global brands, online and high street retailers, Premier League football clubs, financial organisations as well as a number of other vertical industries.

This experience has given him a unique understanding of not only the commercial and strategic aspects of growing an omni-commerce business, but also the technical, tactical and practical aspects of doing so.  His experience encompasses everything within the sphere of omni-commerce from user experience through to supply chain and ERP.

Branwell is often asked to talk on the subject of customer experience and, as a thought-leader, looks to write articles that, not only get people thinking, but contain real and practical advice.

The % of over 65's who used online shopping in 2019
The % of over 65's who used online shopping in 2020