Why ecommerce must be accessible for everyone

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Why ecommerce must be accessible for everyone.

By George Ioannou, Managing Partner at Foolproof, a Zensar company.

Today, people across demographics have found their way online. Baseline digital capability has increased for many based upon sheer necessity, with long stints spent at home being the norm over the last 18 months.

It would be easy to assume that the older generation has benefitted most here – moving from digital naivety to some level of proficiency. However, consumer insight from qualitative research we have gathered indicates this reading fails to tell the whole story. The truth is people across demographics may struggle with online purchasing for different reasons and these are often not related to age.

Baseline digital capability also only speaks to part of the problem. Some people do have preferred retailers (based on price, convenience, ease) and purchase journeys. Often, anything beyond commonly treaded paths can cause hesitation. In certain online purchase situations such as; changes to existing journeys, purchasing something new or having an unfamiliar experience with unknown brands causes confusion and privacy concerns to mount. This makes it harder for people to make a decision that feels right to them, showing that irrespective of age, purchasing online can be overwhelming. 

Perhaps even today, with the notion of accessibility stretching beyond Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and into inclusive design practices, purchasing online still boils down to the clear and simple articulation of the product to purchase journey for everyone. 

Here are three ways retailers can improve their ecommerce experience today:

1. Designing ecommerce for multiple thinking styles and interaction types

Adaptive journeys are where one customer’s journey is shorter than another. They are often based on previous browsing behaviours and the intelligent use of data - to create flexible experiences. Consumers who have been assessed as having low information needs, signalled by frequent browsing, regular purchases and perhaps low returns, may have steps removed from journeys, potentially enabling them to make quicker purchases.

Likewise, those with higher information needs such as more repeat visits, longer time on page, higher numbers of products selected and frequent basket abandonments, may receive an experience with more reassurance built into the design of the purchase flow. In an ecommerce context, this could come in the form of clear information about security, or details on returns amongst many other things. 

This moves the conversation beyond demographics making it about the best journey for a customer, or someone deemed to be like that customer. This can also build in more accessible or inclusive elements into experiences by breaking down or conveying information in a way that responds directly to that individual’s needs. 

Maintaining all these variants within journeys is difficult. But modern design tools such as Figma combined with engineering on experience management platforms and smart data applications can support deeper and more complicated flows.  

2. Getting the physical experience right

From our qualitative research with consumers it’s often clear that physical validation - seeing a product/experiencing a service in reality - is needed at some point in the purchase journey. 

It could come at the start of a purchase journey, for example, assessing the quality of a product in person that lots of other online vendors stock. It could also come at the end of a purchase journey when looking at a specific item after refining options browsed online, or at any point during the purchase journey. 

Price can also frequently determine the need for a psychical touchpoint. No matter how digitally savvy someone may be, some purchases are too big to make online. Particularly when the quality of the object in question is a determining factor. 

The important thing for retailers to get right is offering continuity, no matter how discontinuous the purchase journey may be. Purchase experiences do not always work out through the lens of immediate need, purchase and fulfilment. There may be time lags, losses of interest and changes of heart - even at the point of purchase. 

Here’s three crucial things to get right in providing a continuous and recognisable experience across all touchpoints:

  1. Think about customer experience holistically and align the look, feel and tonality of messaging instore and online.
  2. Always allow customers a point to easily return to in either the online or instore journey and allow jumping between mediums – whether that’s from instore to online, perhaps whilst still even in the store, or online to instore. Consider product scanning, QR codes and item locators within stores to support this.
  3. Make instore more tactile and immersive by bringing to the fore the quality of the product and the branded experience you want to be revered for.

3. Clarity and security build consumer confidence

For people to feel more confident online and build on their capabilities, you need to instil confidence through the power of design. The more confident people feel, the more willing they’ll be to purchase.

This is the baseline requirement for getting people to purchase more online, particularly more expensive items. At certain moments this may mean adding friction to purchase journeys - something often shunned in ecommerce, but as we’ve seen from our projects, can improve conversion and basket value if used tactfully. 

Within purchase journeys, language needs to be economical and familiar. This doesn’t mean you need to lose your brand’s tone of voice, personality and vibrancy. However, it does mean using less jargon and technical words and using clear and descriptive calls to action which clearly demarcate the next step in the purchase journey. This particularly helps people using screen readers or voice assistants. 

When it comes to the final stage of the journey, i.e., purchase and checkout, clear instructional information builds trust and helps improve the likelihood of conversion. 

Summing up

Ecommerce may typically be seen as a battleground for price and convenience and not experience, but by focusing on the basics that benefit everyone and not a single subset of customers or demographic you will be rewarded in turn. This may start with smart tools and technologies like adaptive journeys for different thinking and interaction styles but it often boils down to simplicity and clarity of the design and language used.

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