Guest Blog: Unlock the Purple Pound With Your Online Shop – Four Easy Steps to Start

Guest Blog: Elki from York Disability Rights Forum

The ‘purple pound’ refers to the collective spending power of disabled people. In the UK that equates to £249 billion, and this spending power also translates into online shopping. According to We Are Purple, around 4.3 million disabled online shoppers are clicking away from websites that are impossible or unpleasant to use. By making some small changes, businesses in the UK can open up access to the potential £11.75 billion they’ve been missing out on.

In these guest posts I’ll be writing about how businesses can earn more of those ‘purple pounds’ by improving digital accessibility practices. Over the series I’ll be writing about how your website can give opportunities for improved in-person customer experience (an important one for hospitality and service-based businesses). As well as inclusive marketing and the quick, easy things you can do to reach more disabled customers. But first I’ll be talking about online shopping.

This past year or so has shown how much of an advantage online shopping can be. Many businesses have needed an online offer and more of their customers have had to shop from home. Although things are slowly moving back to shopping in-person for some, maintaining an online shop remains a sustainable and secure way forward for a lot of businesses.

The good news is you don’t need to create a ‘disabled friendly’ version of your website; a website which gives disabled people a better customer experience gives everyone a better customer experience.

So, here are 4 easy things you can do to start making your website more accessible.

1. How does your website sound?

When people use a screen reader to visit your website, they hear it rather than see it. It’s likely that the text on your site can be read out, but how about the images? Making sure an image is given something called alt text means that blind and visually impaired people who are using a screen reader will hear a description of the image. 

An easy fix

It’s really straightforward to add alt text to the images you use. Most website editing platforms allow you to enter alt text when you upload an image or add one to a page. The option may be under an ‘edit image’ menu.

Aim for an accurate but concise description. For example “A bright red shirt with long sleeves and a collar. It has two large flap pockets and red buttons.” There is no need to start the description with “A photo of…” as a screen reader will always say “image” before reading out the alt text.

Added benefits

Alt text has an added benefit in that the description you enter will display where an image should be if someone’s internet connection is on the go-slow.

Mythbusting

Advice which suggests that cramming keywords into image descriptions improves SEO (search engine optimisation) is outdated. A good user experience, signalled by fewer click-aways, for example, bears much more weight these days.

Top tip

A great way to find out whether your website makes sense without images is to turn the images off. If you use Google Chrome this plugin will let you do that: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/images-onoff/nfmlhilnjccdggifdbhnhkffmjgalbgg/related?hl=en

2. Lovely! But just how tall is that flamingo-shaped lamp?

It can be easy to forget to give enough detail about a product, especially when you’re really familiar with it. But for anyone who can’t, or chooses not to, visit a bricks and mortar shop, product information is the thing that can make you the sale.

Many people whose physical access to shops can be limited, myself included, need details, details, details. Information that is important to me may not be obviously important to everyone. But if those details are missing, I’ll go somewhere else. For example, I’m looking for a water bottle which will fit in the holder on my wheelchair. I need to know the diameter of that water bottle, so I’ll buy one from the shop that gives me that information. You may not always be able to predict why the information is important, but that information might be the thing that gives you the competitive edge.

An easy fix

Think about the amount of time some people spend inspecting your products when they’re physically present in your shop and aim to give an online customer the opportunity for this same experience.

Added benefits

Visually impaired people who don’t use a screen reader but can’t see product images clearly will also benefit from thorough product descriptions. Plus, for everyone, information means choice!

Top tip

Look at Amazon listings. I’d rather not buy from Amazon. Like most people I’d rather shop local and support York’s businesses. But sometimes, Amazon gives me the information I need. A great tip is to look at the level of detail in Amazon listings for a product similar to yours and aim to include as much relevant information.

3. Click here, go where?

When you have enough sight you might find your way around a website by visually ‘scanning’ the pages. It’s usually easy to see which section is where, what looks interesting, as well as where the links are. When using a screen reader, finding out what’s on a page might mean listening to every bit of content. But, there are ways to ‘scan’ the links on a page. There is a tendency to link the words ‘more’ or ‘click here’. If those links appear in several places on a page, this results in a screen reader scanning for links and saying ‘more’, ‘click here’, ‘more’, ‘click here’… This doesn’t give a customer any information that suggests where the link goes or what it’s referring to.

An easy fix

Again, this one is really simple to do by making your link text meaningful. Instead of “For information about our sustainability practices click here.” use “Find out about our sustainability practices.”

4. Was it good for you too?

It’s impossible to make your online shop 100% accessible to every person. What you can do though is make it easy for everyone to let you know what they need and ask how you could improve. Over on the YDRF website, we have a notice in the footer which asks people to give us feedback on our content. We also regularly ask people if there’s anything we can do to make our website better and ensure we take action on those things.

An easy fix

Give as many options as possible for contacting your business; phone, email, on-site contact form and postal address.

Top tip

The Big Hack is a great place to do some reading about how you can make your business more accessible to disabled people.

So that’s it! Four easy steps you can take to start making your online shop more accessible to disabled people and earning more of those ‘purple pounds’.

For more information about York Disability Rights Forum visit https://ydrf.org.uk/