Editor's note: In 2019, retailers made up roughly 60% of the all ADA Website lawsuits filed in federal court, more than any other industry. This blog has been updated to reflect 2019 lawsuit numbers and the complex challenges faced by retailers in today's legal landscape.
The retail industry is the most frequently targeted by ADA web accessibility lawsuits—with more than 66% of the Internet Retailer's Top 500 named in an ADA Web or App lawsuit in the past two years. Equally striking, over 40% of those cases are against an retailer that had received a lawsuit in the past.
Why are retailers singled out on this issue? What is behind the trend of multiple actions directed at the same retailer? What can businesses do to proactively address these issues and move their company towards digital accessibility?
Why do retailers top the list of targeted industries?
Retail is one of the internet’s top economic engines, and at its core is access to quality goods and services. But it certainly doesn’t have the societal importance of healthcare, finance, or education, so why do plaintiffs and lawyers so often set their sights on it? And why are so many of these lawsuits against companies that have been sued twice, three times and in some cases even seven times?
1. Retail websites are popular and easy to visit, and their level of accessibility is immediately clear.
Unlike in the physical world of retail, it is considerably easier for a user of assistive technology to visit lots of retailers all in one day. It will become quickly apparent how successful these businesses have been at designing an accessible web experience.
2. Existing DOJ settlements have set a precedent that retailers have an obligation to provide accessibility.
Plaintiff lawyers look for easy cases to win, and that means picking companies that have already been targeted for inaccessible websites or mobile applications.
From the plaintiff’s perspective, the argument is simple—there is precedent from past DOJ legal actions where retailers have agreed to update their websites to match ADA requirements.
3. It can be difficult for retail sites to reach and maintain WCAG 2.0 standards.
Retail websites and mobile apps are notoriously complex, which makes accessibility fixes a financial and logistical challenge. Likewise, the requirements of the WCAG can be detailed and lengthy.
The reason for this is that the WCAG was first written when sites were mostly static web pages that primarily used HTML, not complex web applications that rely on a wide range of technology to generate the best retail user experiences. When you apply these somewhat dated standards to a modern-day retail company, the immense scope of the fix becomes clear. Retail sites are also fluid, constantly changing and updating their content, which makes consistent accessibility a real challenge.
In a brick-and-mortar retail outlet, accessibility is a tactile, manageable issue. When you install a disability ramp or widen an entrance, chances are you won’t have to do it again. On the other hand, digital accessibility has to be tested on every release and maintained throughout a site’s lifecycle.
Why do plaintiffs sue retailers multiple times?
Many retailers have multiple brands with separate websites for each, and some mistakenly believe that one settlement will cover all future legal actions. The numbers don’t seem to support this. In 2018, 25 percent of all ADA web accessibility actions were filed against retailers that had been previously listed in a suit. Some retailer holding companies have been sued seven times or more from 2017 to 2019.
When retailers make digital accessibility a priority, they will not only avoid legal action, but increase their customer base, improve morale, and become an inspiration to others in the industry.
What can a retailer do to prevent or mitigate a lawsuit threat?
1. Create a plan and tell the world.
Companies should involve legal counsel and key stakeholders from each department who create and maintain their digital properties. One of our most popular blog posts is on on crafting an accessibility statement, a good starting point on this topic.
2. Start accessibility remediation.
This is crucial whether you are in the midst of a lawsuit, have recently settled, or are lucky enough to have avoided legal action. The plan should cover your website and mobile apps.
No matter your technical skills, UsableNet has you covered for accessibility remediation.
- UsableNet Assistive: We do it all with this fully managed service that puts our developers and testers in the driver’s seat. Check out our video.
- UsableNet AQA: Got the technical side down? Do it yourself and let us help where needed. Check out our video.
3. Involve members of the disability community.
Ensure your site navigation and user flows are accessible to the widest possible audience by using both an automated test and manual screen reader verification provided by experienced accessibility reviewers or daily users of assistive technology.
4. Maintain accessibility.
With UsableNet Assistive, we shoulder the burden of monitoring your site and dynamically remediating any issues. If these duties fall to your team, read our blog on maintaining accessibility.
As a retailer, you know that changes in taste can have an immediate and profound effect on your business. Your digital accessibility goes beyond individual preference and speaks to a higher standard of service, one that embraces people of all abilities. Start by knowing the landscape, as laid out in our 2018 ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report.