January 6, 2014, 12:06 PM

Safeway enhances its e-commerce site for visually impaired consumers

The grocery retailer has updated its site design to meet accessibility standards from the World Wide Web Consortium. The changes in particular help blind shoppers who rely on voice commands, magnification or keyboard navigation to shop online.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

Grocery retail chain Safeway Inc., which also sells food items online for delivery through an e-commerce site and a mobile app, has updated its web site so that visually impaired shoppers can use it.

While the look of the site remains unchanged, it now meets the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines, Safeway says. Those guidelines include a minimum level of contrast for images and text and making sure the site’s functionality works fully with a keyboard, as some blind shoppers use keys, such as up and down arrows, rather than a computer mouse to navigate online.

The World Wide Web Consortium is an international group that develops standards for various aspects of the web, including design, accessibility, devices and architecture. Those standards and support documents for web developers and businesses are freely available online.

Safeway says it will continue enhancing the accessibility of its e-commerce site over the year to meet more of the consortium’s suggestions. “This decision is an important step towards helping our customers who are blind or visually impaired have a better shopping experience,” Safeway’s executive vice president Larree Renda says. In addition, the chain asked several visually impaired customers about how to best update the site.

“I love the convenience of Safeway's online grocery shopping and have already seen significant improvements as a result of the [accessibility] commitment,” California customer Rebecca Welz-Griffith says.

Safeway is No. 121 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. It had 2012 web sales of just under $200 million, according to the guide.

By following the guidelines, Safeway is also helping shoppers with other disabilities, says Judy Brewer, director of the web accessibility initiative for the consortium. For example, the guidelines also include requirements for captioning of audio which helps deaf and hard-of-hearing site visitors, she says.

“Increasingly businesses are realizing that, just as they need to provide an accessible experience to all customers in the built environment, there is the same expectation on the web—people with disabilities expect to be able to shop anywhere that anyone else can,” she says. “But I think many retailers are still overlooking the needs of their customers with disabilities.”

Companies that don’t make their sites accessible to disabled consumers can also face legal repercussions. This summer, for instance, The National Federation for the Blind and two taxpayers filed a lawsuit against tax services firm H&R Block Inc. for denying blind people the ability to use the same online services it provides to people with sight, they say.

 

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