How to create an inclusive digital experience

In order to create accessible digital experiences, brands need to truly consider the diverse needs of users and be committed to the process of inclusivity, writes Kelly Slessor.

Inclusive digital experiences mean many things to many people. For me, it is about creating an online experience that responds to a user’s individual needs and allows them to achieve whatever it is they set out to achieve. Research shows that an incredible 98 percent of websites have accessibility issues.

It is a complex topic with many confronting elements but one that, I believe, will become a key area of focus for many retailers and businesses in the next few years.

There are 4.5 billion people online today, this is predicted to grow to 6 billion people by 2025. The question is how you create an inclusive experience for 6 billion people?

Last year, I received an email from a woman who was struggling to find the right outfit. This is not an uncommon question for me having built out a personalisation engine and a fashion marketplace. However, the difference was that the person that reached out was not someone that needed style advice from an algorithm. The person was visually impaired and struggled to use e-commerce sites to shop due to the lack of accessibility. She highlighted the challenges faced by visually impaired when shopping online and I can honestly, and sadly, say it was something I had not considered in the build.

Having spent some time at a language company as the head of products, I did understand the challenges faced in relation to language and cultural barriers, but as I started to look into this area there was so much more I hadn’t even considered.

A main driver for building a personalisation engine was to address the issues of inclusivity, that provide personalised experiences and recognise that we are not all size 8, 6ft tall with blond hair. Then we can start to change some of the body image issues and exclusive behaviours that have been created by the fashion industry. Another question that we are currently addressing related to gender is why do most stores only allow you to shop male or female online?

An area for consideration especially in Australia is accessibility for remote communities. Some remote communities do not have access to high internet speeds or simply the internet, laptops or technology. So, how do we create experiences that allow remote communities to not only access websites, products and services but also to sell their own products and services via e-commerce platforms?

There are many different areas that make up inclusive experiences. In order to test and learn we need diverse teams and partners that recognise and understand the issues. We need to be committed to change.

Here are some steps we can take on to improve inclusivity on our digital experiences.

  1. Addressing Disability

Ensuring that the UI and design allows users with disabilities to control the appearance of text and visual elements of the website. Providing clear descriptions on images and text to speech functionality. For most SAAS platforms there are off the shelf plug-ins that provide this capability.

  1. Addressing Diversity

Using inclusive and diverse imagery. A standout brand in this area is Dove Beauty, who as a result, is recognised as one of the most powerful beauty brands of 2020.

Being culturally sensitive, in marketing, messaging and imagery is vital. Tresemmé recently launched a culturally incentive campaign featuring two advertisements; one showing a black woman’s hair labelling it ‘frizzy and dull’ and the other showing blonde hair and labelling it ‘fine and flat’. This led to protests and forced the haircare brand to publish an apology.

  1. Addressing Accessibility

By 2025 more than three-quarters of the world population will access the internet via a mobile device. For remote communities with poor internet connection and a general lack of technology, implementing easy to use mobile tools and mobile accessible platforms is critical.

Accessibility is a big task to tackle and as a business owner and digital experts, we still have so much work to do in this area. As internet users grow so will the diversity of needs, and we are committed to a 2021 accessibility plan and providing access for all.

Kelly Slessor is the founder and CEO of Shop You, a personalised virtual shopping mall, and has driven digital growth and innovation in retail for over 20 years.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash.