In today’s digital world, an organisation’s online presence is vital to a successful business strategy. By building accessible web products, companies can reach a wider audience and gain increased visibility, sales and customer satisfaction.

Accessible web products are important not only for enabling direct sales but also for supporting consumers as they research products and services. More than good business practice, accessible web products are required by law in many localities, where failure to ensure access can result in fines and increased costs in bringing products and services in line with accessibility guidelines.

While addressing access issues in existing products and content is a necessary first step, ensuring accessibility long-term requires a commitment to design and build accessible web products from the start. Understanding how accessibility impacts the bottom line is key to helping companies make that commitment — and sometimes those impacts are less obvious or require a closer look.

Branding and customer perception

Branding is a broad and complex term that basically covers anything that establishes a company or product brand, including logo, corporate colors, mission statement, website, advertising — the list goes on and on. The key for companies to understand, however, is that branding is not just about the communication or product but really depends on how customers think and feel about a brand.

“What your customers say about your brand is the reality (not what you’d like them to think),” according to a branding guide from Shopify. “It’s the impression that pops into their minds when they hear your business’ name. It’s based on a feeling they have that is based on their experiences they’ve had with you, good or bad.”

Those positive or negative impressions can spread far and fast, whether by good old word-of-mouth or online in reviews or social media posts. While recent statistics show that 92% of online feedback is considered positive and just 2% negative, it’s the negative reviews that tend to have a greater impact on decision making.

As noted recently in Forbes, one negative article on the first page of search results can result in a 22% loss of business. That number jumps up to 59.2% with the presence of three or more negative articles on the first page of search results.

Similarly a 2019 study by BrightLocal found that consumers read an average of 10 reviews before they feel they can trust a business, and only 52% of respondents said they would trust a company rated below four stars.

A study by KPMG found that 23% of respondents said they spoke to a friend or family member before making a decision on purchasing a product. And a Wharton School of Business study found that referred customers are both more loyal and more profitable than customers obtained by other means.

What does this all mean? That investing in a positive and seamless experience for 100% of customers will lead to a better overall experience and more positive feedback about a company.

A good place to start when building a brand is to create an accessibility statement that lets customers know the company’s stance on offering accessible web products. By establishing a commitment to accessibility and following through on that promise, companies can establish themselves as inclusive and forward-thinking. Plus, with a strong accessibility policy in place and a commitment to creating accessible web products, companies increase their chances of standing out from the competition and getting those highly coveted recommendations.

Support for greater online spend

Companies looking to grow into the future must take steps now to understand how users who are disabled interact with websites and what helps them to make their purchasing decisions. Because the truth is that, disabled or not, users who have difficulty navigating a website or app are less likely to make a purchase.

The 2019 Click-Away Pound report provides some very valuable information about how users with disabilities interact with websites and how accessibility affects their decision making.

  • 69% of users with access needs will leave a website if they encounter issues because of their disability.
  • £17.1 billion were redirected to other sources because of issues with accessibility for persons who are disabled.
  • 86% of respondents said they would spend more money online if websites were more accessible.

Only 8% of those surveyed said they would contact the company via a helpline, meaning that many companies with accessibility issues on their site may not be aware or ever have the problems brought to their attention.

Customer experience is key to gaining and retaining customers. Beyond people who are disabled, usability in online shopping has a great effect on a consumer’s decision to purchase a product.

A survey by namogoo found some interesting facts about online shopping experiences. Users were asked to select from a list of choices that asked what makes a great online shopping experience.

  • 75.61% of respondents said that an easy checkout process was important.
  • 69.33% said easy search was important.
  • 55.83% said simple navigation was important.
  • 48.39% said ease of use on mobile devices was important.

These insights highlight the importance of creating accessible web products that are multiplatform and user friendly, whether users are disabled or not.

Compliance going forward

Governments across the world have made it clear that websites must be accessible to all users regardless of circumstances. This is especially true if an organisation is a government entity, provides services to the government or has both an online and offline presence.

Failure to comply with local and international accessibility laws can result in lawsuits and fines, and almost always ends with the provider of the web product being forced to update their content and make it accessible. When developing a new web product, it’s important to take into account what the courts have said to other companies who have lost accessibility lawsuits — so teams can approach development with a proactive view to ensuring accessibility.

In order to take a proactive approach to web accessibility it’s important to understand that accessibility means making web products that give disabled people equal opportunity to access and benefit from the product’s services, facilities, privileges and advantages. The United States Department of Justice says individuals with disabilities should be able to “acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions and enjoy the same services as [able bodied] individuals with substantially equivalent ease of use.”

Designing accessible web products under the widely accepted WCAG 2.0 guidelines requires that these products are:

  • Perceivable: content is available to multiple sensory modalities (for example alternative text on images for users who are blind)
  • Operable: forms and navigation are usable without having to use a mouse
  • Understandable: web products are not confusing
  • Robust: content is compatible with assistive technologies

In order to meet these requirements it’s vital that organisations:

  • Create and publish an accessibility policy
  • Hire staff that understand and can implement accessibility features into products
  • Train developers and content creators in creating accessible content
  • Provide experts or resources for employees
  • Conduct periodic audits by qualified accessibility vendors
  • Ensure any third-party content integrated into web products is also accessible before integration
  • Enact policies that require any product acquired by the company to be accessible before acquisition
  • Establish accountability mechanisms for developers and content creators

Organisations with existing content should also conduct an audit of their content as soon as possible, develop a roadmap for updating existing products to meet accessibility guidelines and provide users alternative means to access their content while changes are being made to comply with the WCAG guidelines.

Making accessibility a priority

Addressing accessibility successfully means building accessible products from the ground up. Often it also means a redesign of existing content and products. While that can sound like a big undertaking, it’s important for business leaders to understand that it not only protects companies legally but also increases usability and customer satisfaction. And that is the ultimate bottom line boost, one which leads to better customer loyalty, a better reputation and a more seamless user experience for all users.

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