Retailers should take steps to avoid black marks for accessibility on Black Friday - Linzi Penman

Black Friday falls on 25 November this year – eight days before the International Day of Persons with Disability. Retailers are aware their physical premises need to be accessible to all customers; but Covid has changed the way we shop. The Office of National Statistics notes that the percentage of online sales in the UK jumped from 18 per cent to 37 per cent during the pandemic. A recent survey found that in the UK, businesses lost more than £17 billion in sales in 2019 from disabled shoppers abandoning websites due to accessibility barriers.

Product package boxes and shopping bag in cart with laptop computer which web store shop on screen for online shopping and delivery concept
Product package boxes and shopping bag in cart with laptop computer which web store shop on screen for online shopping and delivery concept

With the increased popularity of online shopping, it is important to check if your online presence is as accessible as your physical premises to maximise sales and customer satisfaction, as well as to ensure legal compliance.

As a retailer, you may be wondering: What should be done to ensure your user journey is accessible, legally compliant and aligned to your company values? And how does this interact with other regulatory requirements, like data protection?

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“Good” accessibility is difficult to define, as this differs from person to person and disability to disability. Also, the legal obligations on the private sector differ slightly from the public sector. Those in the public sector have recently been subject to online compliance regulations, following 2018 legislation requiring all public sector websites and mobile apps (with some exceptions) to meet specified accessibility standards by June 2021. Whilst no deadline has been imposed on the private sector, the same principles apply and are a useful indicator for all businesses which must comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Linzi Penman is a Senior Associate, DLA Piper.
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There are steps retailers can take. As a start,

Colours are important for brand awareness, but accessibility should be considered. For example, certain colour combinations are particularly difficult for colour-blind customers to read, and individuals with hypersensitive variation of autism often need reduced stimulation through use of "cooler" colours. Retailers should also be aware of a wave of recent complaints made to data protection authorities against marketing techniques which use human psychology to achieve a preferred outcome, such as colouring ‘no’ buttons green, and ‘yes’ buttons red.Make sure your key legal policies are accessible by avoiding complex navigation to reach important documents like your privacy policy. Ensure it can be accessed by both keyboard and mouse users in one click and that if you signpost things (for example, access “here”), the signpost should be understood by those that may otherwise face challenges to access it. Consider including a braille display or a screen magnifier. Or, have an immersive reader that reads out phrases like “sign me up” and explain what is being signed up to – maybe with use of infographics or captioned videos. Many organisations use ‘Pixels’. These are trackers embedded in websites, sponsored ads and emails which capture user data, including time spent on a website or email open rates. Under the current UK data protection and privacy regime, pixels generally require consent. As these trackers are designed to be difficult to spot when using a website, it is particularly important that their presence is highlighted to users in an easily accessible way, so they understand how their data is being used.

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There is always a tricky balance between providing enough comprehensive information to satisfy legal requirements and having a “sleek” user journey with as few words as possible. The Information Commissioner’s Office, responsible for upholding information rights and data privacy in the UK, has issued guidance to help companies navigate these competing requirements. The ICO suggests a layered approach, providing users with a short initial message containing all key information, and linking the user to a ‘second layer’ containing a more detailed description.

Even with the strong financial business case for addressing accessibility gaps in user journeys, retailers should be aware this is not only a commercial point, but a legal one – the Royal National Institute of Blind People has launched a toolkit on how to hold website owners to account and are active in bringing cases against non-compliant websites. The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission can also use its legal powers against offending organisations.

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So if you haven’t already, now is the time to start considering accessibility when planning your user journey for websites and apps.

Linzi Penman is a Senior Associate, DLA Piper.

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