It’s exciting to see all the changes taking place with making fashion more inclusive for all. But is shopping itself inclusive?
Today there are so many different ways for people to shop for clothes. These days, spending an afternoon searching store to store for the right item doesn’t work for the busy modern shopper.
Many retailers now offer their products through eCommerce websites. Shopping online not only saves time, but reduces stress, and allows customers to discover new styles and discounts from their favorite brands.
I confess to being one of these eager modern shoppers! But I know the online shopping experience is not widely accessible to people with visual impairments and other disabilities.
A little more about me. I’m Caroline, Founder & CEO of Scribely. My company consists of a team of writers who describe digital images and craft premium alternative text (alt text) descriptions for people with disabilities. I pursued this line of work because I became increasingly frustrated by the pervasive accessibility barriers on the web. I know we can do better for people with disabilities – and we must!
What is alt text and what does this have to do with online shopping? Alt text is a descriptive caption within HTML code that helps individuals using text-to-speech (TTS) assistive technology to visualize and extract information from images. Scribely has dedicated its focus to helping eCommerce businesses so that everyone can shop efficiently and access the brands they love.
There are a surprising number of fashion brands that do not currently provide image alt text on websites and social media. We know this, because there are a variety of tools available to quickly check if an image on the web includes alt text. With a few quick clicks of a mouse, you can inspect the HTML code through any browser (Chrome hint: right click on an image and choose Inspect to review the alt text).
People who rely on assistive technology want to shop online like everyone else, but without alt text this is virtually impossible. Scribely wants to fix that. Missing alt text also leaves businesses publicly and legally exposed. 2020 was a record-breaking year for digital accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The numbers spiked to 3,550 – a 23% increase over prior year, with 77.5% of those lawsuits filed against retailers (UsableNet).
Alt Text: A fully composed outfit hangs on a clothing rack. Garments include: a camel color jacket, pale pink blouse, light denim jeans, tan belt with an alternating black and white chevron design.
Avoiding lawsuits is not the only reason to improve eCommerce accessibility. In 2020, we saw an increased demand to incorporate diversity and inclusion into branding and business practices. And, as everyone was forced to go digital due to Covid-19, the gaps in access to resources on the web were exposed for all to see.
The pandemic has helped us realize how important it is for everyone to be able to buy what they need and have their purchase delivered to their home. As a result, forward-thinking businesses have been working tirelessly to expand their eCommerce presence and eliminate access barriers in 2021.
INCLUSIVE FASHION TAKES OFF IN 2021
Through fashion, we can show the world who we are and how we connect to others. Our clothes and accessories express our individuality. There is power in the way we dress and it’s so important that fashion is available to everyone.
Fashion retail brands are making concerted efforts to diversify with models of different races, sizes, gender identities, and more. While these brands are noticeably progressing, inclusion does not and cannot stop there.
Websites and social media must be accessible to everyone to capture the entire consumer marketplace. According to Return on Disability’s 2020 annual report, people with disabilities and their network of family and friends represent $13 trillion in annual disposable income. Moreover, consumers today are socially aware and likely to be loyal to brands that reflect their values (Return on Disability).
Accessible images are designed and optimized for the web. This creates a better online shopping experience for everyone, resulting in increased discoverability for new brands and products as well as a more positive social media and eCommerce experience. Furthermore, accessible images attract higher quality traffic online. They are more visible to search engine bots and boost visual and voice search capabilities – a win-win for customers and businesses. By increasing accessibility, brands attract more customers and take a giant step forward in fashion’s evolution.
5 TIPS FOR ACCESSIBLE ECOMMERCE
It’s important to understand your customers’ online access needs so you can design an eCommerce experience that works for everyone. For example, people who are deaf or hard of hearing (HOH) often use closed captions and transcripts to access video content. People living with mobility impairments tab through web-based content using their keyboard. People who are blind or visually impaired use screen reader technologies to listen to content as it is read out loud.
Providing accessible content does not have to be an overwhelming obstacle. Here are 5 simple accessibility tips that can be implemented right away:
1. Accurate and distinctive alt text. Alt text is critical for web accessibility and it is also an extension of your brand’s marketing materials. These descriptions are great opportunities to describe your products, capture the style and voice of your brand and insert target keywords for SEO.
2. Accessible video with closed captions, transcripts and audio descriptions. It’s important to ensure that your video is accessible to people with hearing and visual impairments. With just a few extra steps after your video is complete, you can make sure your content is accessible to all users. Scribely recommends Kapwing for closed captions and audio description and Rev.com for transcripts.
3. Inclusive language and imagery. It’s imperative that your website is a safe space where everyone feels welcome. When writing or selecting your content, keep inclusivity in mind and avoid any negative, offensive, condescending, and stereotyped language. Take the time to educate yourself about inclusion and intersectionality. Here is a link to a Scribely’s guide to inclusive language: https://www.scribelytribe.com/blog/inclusive-language-guidelines
4. Adaptive fashion designs. Consider adding adaptive fashion designs over time. This can be as simple as designing a product that’s easy to wear for all bodies. Many people live with temporary or permanent mobility issues and need accessible fashion choices. If you’re a designer, adaptive fashion lines may be in your future. The global adaptive market is expected to surpass $393 billion by 2026 (Global News Wire).
5. Inclusive model representation. Feature models or spokespeople of all races, gender identities, sizes, abilities, ethnicities, and more to represent all of your customers. This will make a big difference for your brand’s website and social media presence and can be done in your next photo shoot.
SCRIBELY’S PROCESS FOR ACCESSIBLE ECOMMERCE
Photos and videos are unique works of art that carry critical visual information for customers to shop effectively online. Scribely’s writers are specialists in crafting alt text that captures the nuance and detail of your products.
Creating unique descriptions for each product image is a known challenge for eCommerce. Try looking at each image on display as an opportunity to sell your products to your customers. Alt text can capture the unique features of every angle and help customers visualize in detail the style and fit of your products.
HERE ARE SCRIBELY’S STEPS TO WRITING EXCEPTIONAL ALT TEXT FOR ECOMMERCE IMAGES:
2. Identify the purpose. This helps our writers determine the essential information to describe for people who can’t see the image. Brands use images to provide visual information about the product’s function, any highlighted features, pairing suggestions, size or fit, and ease of use. Scribely’s writers aim to capture the purpose and intention of the image.
3. Craft succinct descriptions. We keep our alt text as short as possible to help blind and visually impaired users quickly navigate through products. If there is a sequence of product images, we focus on the unique characteristics highlighted in each photo. This approach provides a complete visualization of the product without burying the customer with unnecessary information.4. Incorporate brand voice and keywords. Scribely brings each brand’s unique style and voice into our writing and weaves relevant search keywords into accurate, informative, and discoverable alt text. This process allows images to stand out in voice and visual searches while simultaneously upholding a brand’s personal flair.
5. Maintain high quality standards. Scribely checks (and rechecks) every alt text description for accuracy, grammar and consistency. This process ensures the image alt text is polished and ready to be posted on a website or social media.
Scribely is excited to be the first vendor to break into eCommerce alt text. We take our work seriously for we know that we are helping to actively establish the gold standard for eCommerce accessibility.
WRAPPING THINGS UP...
Fashion sets the trends that society follows. As fashion becomes more inclusive and accessible, we will see society change in response. Scribely’s approach makes images accessible, unique and effective. We look forward to assisting brands in their pursuit of creating an accessible online shopping experience for today’s diverse, modern shoppers.
Learn more about how Scribely is changing the way we all e-shop here