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    3 Top Retail Trends (And how to make them accessible)

    by Lily Mordaunt

    The number of online shoppers increased exponentially during the pandemic from a little over 40% to around 80% in 2021. With shelter-in-place orders and global uncertainty, we were all balancing the desire for minimal human interaction with the need and desire for food and clothing. As someone who was a college student when the pandemic started, I was already well-acquainted with the beauty that is home delivery. It allowed me to be lazy during finals week. It provided a more accessible shopping experience as I could peruse the virtual aisles to my heart's content.

    When shopping in person, I have to rely on someone else to let me know about the products available to me. Because I don't know what I don't know, and if I'm, for example, grocery shopping and want ice cream, I have to ask that person to read me all of the flavors or brands. But, unlike a sighted customer, I can't simply peruse the section until something catches my attention. This situation is where the beauty of online shopping comes in.

    I am part of the 1 in 4 Americans who have a disability of some kind. We spend an estimated 1.2 billion dollars annually, making up the third largest market segment. For us, online shopping is an excellent alternative to going in person. The e-commerce industry should be inclusive and accessible to all its consumers.

    Website accessibility for businesses like retail stores has historically fallen under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA). Retail stores are "places of public accommodations," so they are required to provide equal access to their customers. By extension, lawyers have argued that retailers' websites should provide equal access to everyone too.

    In 2022, accessibility lawsuits average ten filings daily, with e-commerce making up 79% of the cases. The data predicts that these lawsuits will only keep increasing. So, if you are a retailer, you should be paying attention to accessibility when launching new ideas to reach customers.

    You can still get in on industry trends and not sacrifice accessibility. In this blog, I look at 3 top trends in online retail in 2022 and how you can make these experiences accessible for all customers. 

    Trend # 1: Delivery Updates

    One of the first things we try to determine when shopping online is delivery time. For example, can an item be picked up or delivered in one day or a few hours? And how easy is it to determine that information?

    Some online shops give customers several delivery time slots depending on the item and website. If this is the case, the delivery options should be in an accessible format like an accessible drop-down menu. Then customers using a mouse or keyboard/ screen reader for navigation can access the options. 

    Once the customer has chosen the time slot, and their item(s) are on the way, accessing estimated delivery times, if available, should also not be a hassle. So, for example, suppose a delivery app—offers the ability to follow the delivery person in real-time. In that case, there should be more than a map to track progress. Providing estimated arrival times in straightforward, easy-to-find text allows users who are blind or map-challenged to have no confusion about the location of their order.

    Trend # 2: Live Shopping Experiences

    I've noticed a growing trend in e-commerce spaces to host live shopping events. By displaying and interacting with their products in a live and easily accessible format, companies hope to entice new buyers and engage long-time customers. In theory, this is a great, accessible way to get a variety of users involved. For someone with a mobility impairment, there is no need to worry about travel. They can access the product in the comfort of their own home. Or, if you don't feel like interacting with people, you can examine the product from the comfort of your couch.

    While these events can be fun and inclusive, retailers and those hosting must be careful about alienating other groups. For example, if some consumers are deaf, are there captions for the videos? Or, if they are blind, is the host careful to describe the product thoroughly? Can either the captions or product descriptions be found elsewhere? And is that information readily available?

    Trend #3: Sustainability Messaging

    Warnings against climate change are increasing. Many consumers and I are becoming more conscious of sustainability efforts. Are there paperless options for things like receipts? Electronic receipts also provide an accessible alternative for blind consumers. Are you clear about recycling or conservation efforts? Are products made with organic material differentiated from products made with inorganic material?

    As with the rest of your site, if this information is applicable, it should be easy to find. It should be a part of a menu that customers can navigate using a keyboard, not just a month. If there are accompanying images, they should have alt text descriptions so that the image is accessible to blind consumers or a customer with poor or slow Internet. 

    Why should you make sure these trends are accessible?

    E-commerce is a rapidly growing industry. With 26% of Americans having a disability, it is also an industry that must prioritize all its customers. An accessible website means a smoother user experience for the disabled and non-disabled. It also promotes a good relationship with all your customers as people are likely to return to and promote websites that are easy to use. An accessible digital storefront also prevents retailers from violating the ADA.

    Finally, I can only speak for myself here, but accessible websites make me happy. I still get excited when I come across a website with properly labeled buttons, clear descriptions, and an easy-to-navigate interface. I remember the experience. I then become a loyal customer and brand ambassador. 

    Testing is a great way to know if you provide an accessible experience for all your customers. To help you get started, UsableNet has a free, downloadable guide to accessibility testing—the guide details critical considerations for every step of the testing journey.

    If you're interested in learning about user testing with people from the disability community- you're in luck! We're hosting a free webinar in August.

    Get to know How to set up user testing as part of your accessibility program (and why you should) in UsableNet's live August webinar. Save your seat now.

    Retail User Experience

    Lily Mordaunt

    Lily Mordaunt

    Lily Mordaunt is a graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor's degree in creative writing. An avid reader, Lily hopes to eventually work as a book editor for one of the Big Four publishing houses. She is currently working as Usablenet's editorial and public relations intern.

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