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Holiday Shopping with a Screen Reader: My Black Friday Experience

By Michael Taylor on Dec 4, 2023
Topics: Web Accessibility, Retail, User Experience


Every year, it seems like Black Friday deals begin earlier and earlier and extend further into the week after Thanksgiving. Though Black Friday was a few days ago, one of my favorite online electronics retailers is still making the discounts available.

I am shopping for a new portable wireless speaker to replace one that has not worked properly for some time. I already know the model I want, which happens to be heavily discounted for Black Friday.

In the remainder of this post, I will narrate my journey through the purchase process, discussing both positive and negative aspects of the accessibility experience. As always, I will be speaking from the perspective of a screen reader user.

Accessible Product Search

Upon launch of the electronics retail site, I was shocked that there was no annoying pop-up announcing an email list signup, information about the available deals and discounts, or any other interruption that would slow down my browsing experience. These pop-ups are often difficult to dismiss, so I was relieved that I did not encounter one.

The first step was to locate the search input field because I wanted to buy a specific model of speaker. Doing this was easy using my screen reader to filter by text field only. I input my search criteria and press the enter key. Once the results page loaded, I began to manually navigate around the page.

The first thing that I encountered was a link labeled “Skip To Main Content.” Skip navigation links are great for accessibility because they allow screen reader users to bypass all of the clutter that often exists at the top of a webpage. The speaker I wanted happened to be the second search results option. Activating it brought me to the product details page. Up until this point, the overall accessibility of the site seemed excellent.

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A Price Problem

I began navigating around the item details page in search of the “Add To Cart” or “Buy Now” option. This is when I became aware of a problem. When I reached the item’s price, I was surprised to hear that it was listed at the normal retail amount. I was very confused. I knew that the sale was running because of several emails I received in the days leading up to my purchase. I had even found the discounted price for this particular speaker in one of the marketing emails. I took a while to ponder the issue until something dawned on me.

I tried adding the speaker to the cart. The subtotal listed in the cart reflected the discounted price. I realized that the sale price was indeed listed on the item details page, but in a font that was not recognized by my screen reader.

The screen reader was only able to read the original price. A sighted person later confirmed that the sale price was shown in large green numerals embedded in a small colorful graphic. This is a significant accessibility flaw that is unfortunately common when shopping for discounted products.

Cheerful Checkout

Once I was sure that I would be paying the lower price for the speaker, I proceeded to the checkout. Everything seemed to go smoothly, at least initially. I was able to successfully decline damage coverage insurance on the speaker, a task that recently gave me a lot of trouble when attempting to buy concert tickets. Entering my shipping address and payment card was surprisingly easy, with all text fields and navigation buttons clearly labeled.

Brought To A Hault

After reviewing my order, I navigated to the “Confirm Purchase” button. For some reason, it was designated by my screen reader as “Dimmed,” which means that it cannot be activated. I tried pressing it anyway but to no avail. I then began to review all of the data that I had entered during the checkout process in the event that I had made a typo or other error. Nothing seemed amiss. Deciding to try a different device, I repeated the entire shopping process on my smartphone.

At the very end of the checkout process, I discovered the trouble. There was a selectable check-box directly above the “Confirm Purchase” button that asked the user to agree to the site’s terms and conditions. If that check-box is not activated, the “Confirm Purchase” button will not be clickable. For whatever reason, the mobile screen reader was able to find this web element but the desktop version completely missed it.

Just to make sure it was not a system glitch, I started from scratch on the desktop version of the site but had the same exact problem during the final step of the checkout process. While I was able to complete my purchase in the end, this is still a major and unacceptable accessibility defect.

→ Click here to use AQA and find out if your website is accessible. 

Black Friday 2023: Overall A Success

For online retailers, Black Friday 2023 was a success with record sales. Last week, Forbes published jaw-dropping stats from Adobe Analytics, including: 

  • 109.3 billion in online consumer spending from Nov 1- Nov 27
  • 12.4 billion in e-commerce sales on Cyber Monday 
  • 59% of online sales were driven by Smartphones on Thanksgiving

Additionally, 200.4 million shoppers across websites and stores over the 4-day weekend, a record according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), and 75% of US adults shopped over the five spending days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). 

For me, as the consumer, I am glad that I took advantage of this Black Friday deal. However, as a member of the disability community, Black Friday came with some accessibility challenges. 

It's worth pointing out that with a record number of adults shopping in 2023, and with up to 1 in 4 people in the US having a disability, the chances of some of your customers being a part of the disability community are high. Further, many people benefit from an accessible shopping experience, including groups like non-native speakers and the elderly. 

I can only write about my specific experience. Yet, I hope that this narration of one shopping experience helps illustrate how some of the specific accessibility points that I discuss in my blogs manifest themselves. Accessibility best practices are not simply items to check off a list for compliance. Accessibility truly impacts my customer experience. 

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Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

My name is Michael Taylor and I am a marketing intern at Usablenet. I graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelors of business administration in marketing. I am blind, and use assistive technology each and every day to access the digital world. As a result, I am very passionate about web accessibility and usability. My experiences with the good and bad of accessible technology give me a unique perspective that allows me to make meaningful contributions in the digital accessibility field. During my marketing internship at Usablenet, I hope to raise awareness about digital accessibility by providing accounts of my personal experiences and suggestions and recommendations about what works well and what does not. Though I am only beginning on my professional journey, I aim to pursue a long-term career in the digital accessibility field.

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