Inaccessible websites cost businesses £412m during pandemic

  • UK businesses lost out on almost £412 million during the pandemic* because their websites are inaccessible to disabled people
  • More than one in three disabled people had difficulties using websites during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Companies urged to review disabled customer experience as eBay announces new commitments on Purple Tuesday

UK businesses lost out on almost £412 million during the pandemic* because their websites are inaccessible to disabled people, according to new research** released by Purple, which brings disabled people and businesses together to improve the customer experience of disabled people.

The research found that more than one in three disabled people had difficulties using websites during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when the economy increasingly relied on online sales and many disabled people were asked to shield. 15% had problems reading websites and 18% simply gave up using a site. More than half (54%) of those who had difficulties did not then spend money they had planned to, leaving millions in the pockets of disabled people instead of in the economy.

Global ecommerce platform eBay – the world’s largest auction site – is today sharing their ongoing efforts to improve the experiences of disabled buyers and sellers on their site and native apps. eBay strives to ensure:

  • Keyboard-only access throughout the site to help people who prefer not to, or can’t, use a mouse. For instance, people with an injury or a motor impairment.
  • Alternative text for icons and images, which provide a textual description of images for people with sight loss.
  • Clearly labelled form elements to ensure they’re easily understood for those cognitive disabilities and those using assistive technology such as a screen reader.
  • Adequate colour contrast across the site and apps for people with colour deficiencies or low-vision.
  • Issuing advice to eBay’s 300,000 small business sellers to avoid small font sizes, use plain but descriptive language, avoid light colours in text and keep animations simple or ditch them altogether.

eBay is also calling on its sellers to make important changes to how they list and describe their items, which will make them more accessible to a wider audience. Commenting on the organisation’s decision to sponsor, Eve Williams, CMO of eBay UK, said:

“Purple Tuesday is important to eBay because our purpose as a business is to create economic opportunity for all, and accessibility is a fundamental pillar of that. We’ve taken great strides over the past 10 years or so at eBay, but as technology and the needs of our customers change, so must we. There is always room for improvement and through partnering with Purple we’re committing to continually adapting and evolving our site as we progress on this journey with them. We know that small changes can make a world of difference to people with a disability who use our platform, and we would encourage any retailers with an online presence especially to do the same.”

It wasn’t just websites that caused frustration during the pandemic – 40% of disabled people had difficulties interacting with organisations in person. Almost one in five (19%) had problems with communication and the same proportion had problems with physical accessibility. And while most disabled people agreed with measures such as masks and social distancing, these did make life more difficult for 39%.

The NHS is most frequently mentioned when it comes to the best organisations for accessibility of services, and overall, the supermarket sector comes top. However, more than half (54%) of disabled people still feel organisations could do more to improve the experiences of disabled customers, with the most common unmet needs being around physical access and support, such as lack of wheelchair ramps, narrow aisles and staff unavailable to help reach high shelves or carry shopping to the car.

Purple Tuesday is a change programme for organisations of all sizes from all sectors to get involved in, with the common goal of improving the customer experience for disabled people 365 days a year. More than 5,000 organisations have so far used Purple Tuesday 2021 as an opportunity to make practical commitments to improve the disabled customer experience.

Today Purple is calling on even more organisations to urgently review their services for disabled customers, to help them take advantage of the £274 billion Purple Pound – the combined spending power of disabled people and their families.

Mike Adams OBE, Founder and Creator of Purple Tuesday, said:

“Like everyone else, businesses had to adapt during the pandemic. There were countless examples of companies completely overhauling their offer almost overnight to stay successful. We therefore know it can be done, and now there are no excuses not to make changes to meet the needs of disabled people. Often the adjustments required are small and the financial rewards great, particularly as the benefits can usually be felt by all customers.

“Purple Tuesday this year, coming as it does in the wake of a pandemic and at a pivotal moment in the Climate Emergency, is about instilling a similar sense of urgency and making it unacceptable for those serious about economic recovery to ignore disabled people in 2021.”

Minister for Disabled People Chloe Smith said:

“Disabled people have spending power. One in five people in this country are disabled and that’s a lot of customers.

“It is vital that the vast spending power and needs of disabled customers are not overlooked. This should be a mainstream concern of businesses as we recover from the pandemic.

“Purple Tuesday is a powerful reminder of why inclusivity is so important for society and the economy and through our National Disability Strategy we’re committed to helping businesses to be accessible for all.

“I implore all firms, big and small, to unlock the value of the Purple Pound and reap the benefits it brings.”

Zurich, one of the world’s leading insurers, is another organisation making new commitments to support inclusion and accessibility. Zurich is one of the first 25 companies, and first insurer, to have joined the Valuable 500 and have committed to support disability in the workplace, including at board level.

Peter Hamilton, Head of Market Engagement, Zurich UK, said:

“We’re proud at Zurich to partner with Purple Tuesday as part of our pledge to being a disability inclusive organisation. We know there are millions of consumers and colleagues with disabilities who want access to services, information, and products, while some will be looking for fulfilling careers within insurance. As a company, but also as an industry, we want to make insurance as inclusive and accessible as possible. We know we’re on a journey, and that there is plenty more to do, and Purple are the best possible guides to support our new initiatives and changes.”

Another Purple Tuesday participant this year is Allwyn, which is applying to replace Camelot as National Lottery operator. Allwyn is creating the lottery of the future to serve as a force for good for society, which has seen its European operation benefit local communities by building new hospitals and promoting sport in schools.

Sir Keith Mills, Allwyn’s Bid Chair for the National Lottery, said:

“At Allwyn, we make lotteries better. This means making them more inclusive. Purple Tuesday demonstrates the fact that an improved customer experience for disabled people is both good for society and good for business. We can’t wait to get started in our work with Purple, now and over the years ahead, building on the momentum to make a real difference to the lives of disabled people up and down the country.”

*Based on 13,084,000 disabled UK adults 16+ (ONS Population Estimates: 14.1m disabled people minus 1,016 disabled children under 16). Average amount unspent online due to inaccessible websites: £31.46 per person. Total unspent online: £411,622,640

**TFL Panel research carried out in January 2021 (representative sample of 836 people identifying as disabled) and August 20201 (representative sample of 1001 adults identifying as disabled).