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Web Accessibility and E-Commerce: The Rise of Online Shopping

April 11, 2016

How a Lack of Web Accessibility is Hurting Those that Need it the Most

Online shopping, commonly referred to as e-commerce, allows customers to directly purchase goods and/or services from a seller via the Internet. E-commerce has exploded in recent years, affecting the market of brick and mortar retail stores. According to, e-commerce values in the US in 2015 exceeded $700 billion. However, those that stand to benefit the most from its convenience, the disabled, are largely excluded due to inaccessible websites.

Online vs. Retail Shopping: Consumers

Pros and cons exist for both retail and online shopping. The most direct benefit of retail shopping is its immediacy—find something you like, pay for it and walk out the door with it. Online shopping, on the other hand, can’t fulfill this need. Although the speed of online shopping is improving, delivery time will always be a factor.

E-commerce offers a different type of convenience. It allows customers to shop from the comfort of their home, any hour of the day, any day of the year. Online shopping is not beholden to the ‘working hours’ of retail stores. Another benefit of online shopping is access to information and reviews. Unless a customer has done their due diligence before entering a retail store, the only information they have at their disposal is what a salesperson offers. Almost always, there is a conflict of interest—salespeople are trained to sell their products first, not necessarily the product that best satisfies the needs of the customer. E-commerce allows consumers to scour the web for all types of products from different retailers, looking at reviews from other buyers to make the most informed decision they can. Although there’s no way to completely rid ourselves from buyer’s remorse, online shopping helps limit it.

There are also benefits and drawbacks to businesses for investing in e-commerce. Many businesses are foregoing physical retail stores in favor of online business due to cost. An online store does not need to pay rent for a storefront, additional employees, or decorations. But online stores require setting up a website and e-commerce platform.

How the Disabled Can Benefit from e-Commerce

Online shopping can be tremendously beneficial to individuals with disabilities. After all, many types of disabilities, such as vision impairment, limit mobility and ease of travel. Unfortunately, many business owners believe that individuals with disabilities will not be their customers, and by not catering to their needs will only miss out on a small minority. The reality is that , 8.1 million Americans have a visual disability, according to the 2010 Americans with Disabilities census. 30.6 million Americans have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, and 11.6 million use a can, crutches or walker. The disabled make up a sizable portion of the US population—nearly 19%. That’s an incredible customer base to be missing out on.

Making sure that all websites, including e-commerce sites, are accessible to the disabled is imperative to allowing them to better assimilate and function in our ever-changing society, and helps the bottom line of many businesses to boot.