Research shows businesses lose £17 billion by ignoring accessibility needs

UK retailers could be missing out on online sales estimated at £17.1 billion a year by not meeting the needs of disabled shoppers online, according to research from disability and diversity consultancy, Freeney Williams.Person shopping online on laptop

Results from the 2019 Click-Away Pound Survey reveal that nearly three quarters of disabled online consumers (69%) will simply click away from websites that they find difficult to use due to the effect of their disability.

Results have found that 83% of participants with access needs limit their shopping to sites that they know are accessible and 86% have chosen to pay more for a product from an accessible website rather than buy the same product for less from a website that was harder to use.

Results show disappointing lack of progress

The 2016 version of the survey found that more than 4 million people abandoned a retail website because of the barriers they found, taking with them an estimated spend of £11.75 billion. In 2019, that lost business - dubbed the ‘Click-Away Pound’ - has grown to £17.1 billion.

The 2019 Survey also compared progress against the original 2016 Survey results, and shows a distinct and disappointing lack of progress in removing barriers over the last three years.

In the most recent survey, 72% of participants with access needs said they experienced barriers on more than a quarter of websites they visit for the first time: this remains almost unchanged from the 2016 figure of 73%.

How to complain about inaccessible websites

Most businesses will be unaware that they are losing out because only 8% of disabled customers who have difficulty using a site will contact the site owner. Read advice from AbilityNet about raising this issue in our How to complain about inaccessible websites factsheet.

Rick Williams, co-author of the Survey and Managing Director of Freeney Williams, said: “After 20 years of legislation, most high street retailers in the UK understand they need to take disabled shoppers’ needs into account when designing ‘bricks and mortar’ shops. Although the same law applies to their online presence, many of those businesses seem oblivious to the need to make their websites accessible. This is also very disappointing given the amount of guidance, publicity and information which has been made available since the last Survey”.

Rick went on to say: “We are coming to the conclusion that promoting the business case has not served disabled shoppers well and continues to fail them. Therefore, there seems little choice but to look to another approach which comes down to making the law more effective."

"There are provisions in the Equality Act about ensuring the accessibility of websites, but this has proved ineffective," Rick continues. "We need now to introduce more specific regulations for all websites, as is now the case for public sector sites. Such sites are under a specific legal obligation to achieve international standards with associated monitoring and sanctions. We are now calling for similar legislation for all websites and apps otherwise, as performance to date indicates, disabled people will continue to be discriminated against online”.

Speaking at a recent Accessibility Meet Up event in London, Abi James of AbilityNet said of the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations: "It's a great opportunity to communicate to your users about how you can support their needs," emphasising how the regulations will positively impact the needs of disabled people.

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How Scope is rallying the industry

The Click-Away Pound survey findings also reflect other accessibility research about provision for disabled people online. During AbilityNet's TechShare Pro conference we heard from disability charity, Scope, about its The Big Hack report. Scope's research found that 75% of survey respondents felt business was losing out due to poor inclusive design.

What’s more, when faced with problems using a website or app, or an in-store device such as a self-checkout machine 50% of respondents didn’t complete the purchase; while 48% found an alternative place to buy – taking their business elsewhere.

“Inclusive design should be a priority for businesses of all sizes,” said Craig Moss, Research Manager for Scope. “In a society where our differences are increasingly recognised, and celebrated - and not to mention a society that is getting older - it is vital from both an economic and an ethical perspective that marketers respond to the changing design priorities that come with this.”

Listen to our TechShare Procast podcast discussing the ambitious programme being developed by Scope as a call to action for the tech industry to become more inclusive of disabled people. It includes a range of projects and new resources which aim to win the case and provide the practical tools for inclusive design.

Download a text transcript of the episode and subscribe via our website.

Further resources