Kiwi online shopping companies are failing people with disabilities
By Mark Presnell
Too few of New Zealand’s e-commerce sites meet even the basic accessibility standards for
internet users with disabilities and it’s vital that local online shopping outlets move quickly to
rectify this or risk getting left behind (or worse, called out in public).
Making the customer journey easier for people with disabilities is not only the right thing to
do but also good business.
The lack of movement on disabled customer needs is a potential blind spot for local
companies since about 1-in-4 of Kiwis are limited by a physical, sensory, learning, mental
health, or other impairment.
WebAIM, a non-profit measuring web accessibility, found last year that 96.8% of all home
pages did not meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is what it recommends for
making websites truly accessible to individuals with impairments.
In my experience, there is very little focus on making the customer journey easier for people
with disabilities. The issue of accessibility just doesn’t come up when retailers are building e-
commerce sites. We at Convergence feel that this is a worrying issue that should be
considered more often.
Creating a better overall experience makes business sense. It can attract more customers
and, given how only 3% of websites are classed as fully accessible, those with disabilities
are sure to have tremendous brand loyalty once they find a site that takes their needs
According to the 2021 Disability Equality Index, a corporate benchmarking tool for disability
inclusion, 82% of businesses had a commitment to making digital content accessible to
users with disabilities.
However, only 59% of respondents had implemented a requirement to ensure their sites
were accessible and usable by people with disabilities. This is a major blindspot for many
businesses which otherwise show intense focus on improving their diversity and inclusion
policies. Accessibility is an area where a lot of companies have struggled and often don’t
know what to do.
Companies tend to concentrate on the low-hanging fruit of the non-impaired customer
segment. In my opinion, you leave money on the table and make life harder for impaired
Kiwis when you don’t include ease of use in your website creation strategy.
With that in mind, here are some tips for companies willing to create simpler systems for
customers and employees.
1. Include sensory options
Someone who struggles with impaired eyesight may appreciate navigating an e-commerce
website that offers sound files that “read out” a product description or that present the
information in dynamic font styles that could increase in size or change colour.
Another option might be to use a more intuitive PIM (product information management) tool
to better help people locate the products on a website.
Software and computer hardware aids do exist on the market for sensory-impaired people,
so individual websites may not need to create their own systems. But every company site
should look for the best practice to make their site as accessible as possible.
2. Baby steps first
Improving the accessibility of a website isn’t something that can be achieved by flicking a
switch. It is a journey that requires small, incremental changes over time that all lead to a
more inclusive online experience for all customers.
If website accessibility was an easy option for e-commerce companies, you wouldn’t be
reading this. But when something makes business sense and improves people’s lives, that’s
got to be worth putting the effort in.
Improving accessibility is also crucial outside of the e-commerce space. After all, if a
company hopes to be more inclusive in its hiring practices and a potential candidate
struggles to use the company’s website, then they also won’t be able to fill out a job
application or learn about the company before deciding if they want to work there.
Web accessibility is not just about buying products and services. Since a good chunk of
business is now done online, accessibility is crucial for employees along with customers.