Record-Shattering Online Grocery Sales Highlight Need for Digital Accessibility

Published August 28, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic drives up a demand for online grocery sales and delivery services (a record $7.2 billion in groceries were purchased online in June 2020), retailers are tasked with ensuring their virtual shopping experience is accessible for all customers. Just as accessibility is the law in brick-and-mortar stores, so too are virtual retailers required to provide accessible experiences.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in "places of public accommodation," which includes private businesses that are open to the general public, such as grocery stores. Lack of compliance may expose an online retailer to lawsuits or fines. Accessibility is also just good business — a recent study found that as many as many two-thirds of online retailers have "serious accessibility issues," forcing customers to take as much as $6.9 billion of their business to accessible alternatives each year.

Online and mobile grocery-shopping experiences should consider the depth and breadth of users and the extent of their needs from start to finish. A deaf customer, for example, may have no issue ordering groceries online for pickup, but may face barriers obtaining the groceries at the designated time and place if they're required to dial a phone number and speak to an employee upon arrival.

To build a fully accessible digital experience, grocers should consider the following:

  • Pay attention to color contrast. Contrast and color use are vital to accessibility. Users, including those with visual disabilities, must be able to perceive content on the page. Provide enough contrast between text and background so that it can be read by people with low vision.
  • Ensure the website works with keyboard navigation. Users with limited mobility in one or both hands, tremor, low vision, or for any number of reasons, may find it difficult to use a mouse. Test your website without using a mouse by relying on keyboard navigation (such as "tab" and "enter" keys) to navigate the site, place items in a cart, and checkout.
  • Provide thorough descriptions of product images in alt text. Users with visual disabilities may use a screen reader, which reads aloud text on the screen as well as descriptions provided of the image in hidden tags known as alt text. Make sure these descriptions are thorough and unique to the product. For example, instead of "5 lb. potatoes," which can be used to describe multiple offerings in the store, specify the brand, type of product and relevant details, such as "5 pound bag of ABC Brand Organic Russet potatoes."
  • Write clear and unambiguous instructions. Provide enough information for the user to accomplish the task without undue confusion or navigation. Clear instructions help users with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities (and really everyone) to enter information correctly. They also prevent users from making incomplete or incorrect form submissions, which can force them to navigate once more through a form to fix submission errors.
  • Provide more than one contact method for customer assistance. Account for a variety of communication abilities within your customer base by listing e-mail, telephone, live chat, and text messaging options for customer service. Make sure all services can be provided across these platforms. In other words, don’t tell a customer who contacts you via e-mail to call a telephone number to resolve an issue, as that customer may be deaf or hard of hearing, for example, and prefer to use written communication.
  • Accept a variety of payment options online. Nearly 25 percent of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants have a disability. Payment options should include acceptance of SNAP EBT cards.
  • Ensure your pick-up and delivery processes are accessible. For curbside pick-ups, create clear, large-print signage with a number that customers can both call and text to alert employees to their arrival. For delivery, provide an option at checkout for customers to identify a preference for phone calls or text messages for communication from delivery drivers. Provide assistance with loading groceries into the vehicle for customers who may need it.

The goal of accessibility for online and mobile grocers is to create an experience that everyone can use, no matter their age, skill level, or ability. In designing and maintaining a store that is accessible for everyone, you expand your customer base and make it much more likely they’ll fill their cart and complete the transaction again and again.


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