Today, almost everyone is shopping online. Consumers expect the ability to browse, compare and shop from any device rapidly. However, as more consumers shift to online shopping, retailers face increasing legal challenges for failing to meet minimum standards for ADA web accessibility.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all public-facing digital content be accessible to people with disabilities. Failure to comply with the ADA web accessibility guidelines can result in legal action, settlement costs, and reputational damage. In this article, we’ll explore why retail is the number one industry targeted by ADA web accessibility lawsuits and what you can do to protect your online business.
What is Web Accessibility for Retail
Web Accessibility is about creating an inclusive experience for all customers with barrier-free access to your online store. Websites must allow customers with visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive disabilities to access information, make purchases, and interact with your online business.
However, customers with disabilities can have vastly different experiences on a website based on their disability and the assistive technologies used. For example, customers with mild-to-moderate vision may rely on their browser’s built-in zoom function. In contrast, customers with more severe visual impairments require a screen reader to access information, browse your products, and shop. But how does web accessibility affect retail business owners?
Key Insights Retailers Need to Know
In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in lawsuits related to website accessibility, and retailers have been among the hardest hit. In 2022, there were more than 4,000 web accessibility lawsuits filed in Federal and California State Court under the Unruh Act. However, the retail industry was the number one industry targeted by ADA web accessibility lawsuits, accounting for almost 77%.
In fact, 391 of the Internet Retailer Top 500 list received an ADA-based web accessibility lawsuit within the last five years. Likewise, 72% of cases filed in 2022 were against companies with less than 50 million annual revenue. For large and small eCommerce companies, web accessibility is critical as consumers and plaintiffs become more aware of their rights under the ADA and seek legal recourse.
For more information on recent ADA web accessibility filings, check out Accessibility.com’s Digital Accessibility Lawsuits Database.
Why Are Retailers Vulnerable?
With the rise of e-commerce, online retailers face increasing web accessibility lawsuits. But why? Are retail sites less accessible than other industries?
Large Online Presence
Online retailers are everywhere! With more and more eCommerce websites created daily, there are 24 billion estimated globally. Undoubtedly, the retail industry has the most prominent digital presence, making them easy to find and visit.
As a result, e-commerce stores can quickly become victims of frivolous ADA-based lawsuits. Plaintiffs can quickly surf the web, engage with products or information, and determine whether a company prioritizes web accessibility.
Complex Websites Can Be Difficult to Make Accessible
It can be challenging for retail sites to reach and maintain the international standards for web accessibility, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). E-commerce stores are notoriously complex, with many pages, dynamic content, and intricate navigation. Making such websites accessible to individuals with disabilities can be a daunting task. In addition, it can present financial and logistical challenges, especially in a constantly evolving industry.
Many online retailers may not have the resources to hire web developers with expertise in ADA compliance or keep up with the constantly evolving standards and guidelines for web accessibility, increasing their vulnerability to litigation.
A Constantly Changing Industry
Online retailers frequently update their content to inform customers about new products, services, promotional sales, and resources. However, these changes can also make it more challenging to ensure the website remains accessible. Unfortunately, creating an accessibility barrier for disabled users is almost too easy.
Retailers must stay vigilant and up-to-date with web accessibility standards and guidelines. Failure to do so can leave retailers vulnerable to an ADA web accessibility lawsuit. Plaintiffs can easily find web accessibility barriers, document them, and file an ADA lawsuit, frequently creating a vicious cycle.
Easy to Test for ADA Web Accessibility
Most retail websites have the same or similar accessibility barriers. This can make it relatively easy for plaintiffs to test websites using automated tools and target many websites simultaneously. Automated tools can quickly scan a website and identify potential accessibility barriers based on the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, such as missing alt text, improper header structures, and broken links.
This means plaintiffs can quickly and easily identify accessibility issues and file ADA web accessibility lawsuits against retailers in minutes. In contrast, website owners are left spending thousands on settlement costs and website remediation. Retailers must take the necessary steps to ensure ADA web accessibility compliance to minimize the risk of litigation.
Existing Department of Justice Settlements
The US Department of Justice has settled several high-profile ADA web accessibility lawsuits with retailers, including Winn-Dixie and Walmart. These settlements have resulted in significant financial penalties and required these retailers to take extensive measures to make their websites more accessible.
As a result, these settlements have set a precedent for other plaintiffs now targeting retailers with similar accessibility issues. They can directly reference past DOJ actions within their case. Retailers must be aware of these settlements and ensure their website is accessible to all customers.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys often target online retailers for ADA web accessibility lawsuits because they are settled quickly and relatively easily. This is because online retailers usually prefer to pay out of court rather than go to trial, as they can avoid additional costs and negative publicity associated with a lengthy legal battle. As a result, plaintiffs’ attorneys can often secure quick settlements, making it a lucrative and attractive option to target online retailers.
How to Protect Your Online Business
It is essential to ensure that your website and online applications comply with ADA web accessibility standards to mitigate the chance of a lawsuit. This may involve working with web accessibility experts to conduct an audit and any necessary changes.
To protect against ADA web accessibility lawsuits, retail companies should take several steps:
- Conduct a web accessibility audit: Conduct a comprehensive web accessibility audit to identify all web accessibility barriers.
- Make a plan: Address the issues identified in the audit, prioritizing the most critical issues first.
- Train staff: Educate staff on web accessibility best practices and how to maintain accessibility standards moving forward.
- Use accessibility tools: Use accessibility tools, such as web accessibility monitoring services, to test websites and apps for accessibility.
- Consider a dedicated accessibility team: Partner with an accessibility team to oversee ongoing web accessibility efforts and ensure compliance with ADA requirements.
- Stay up-to-date: Stay informed about ADA web accessibility requirements, and update websites and apps as needed.
Get Proactive about ADA Web Accessibility
Everyone, especially those in the online retail industry, should be proactive about ADA web accessibility. By taking proactive steps to ensure the accessibility of your website, you can mitigate legal challenges and provide easy access to all customers.
Through our years of experience in the trenches analyzing and studying these cases, we can determine how ADA non-compliance lawsuit firms identify their targets and how to protect your business. At 216digital, we will develop a strategy to integrate WCAG 2.1 compliance into your development roadmap on your terms so that you can focus on the other tasks on your to-do list. So don’t wait any longer; find out where you stand by scheduling a complementary ADA Strategy Briefing today.