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Supermarket Websites Fail Basic Checks

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from E-Access Bulletin, Issue 55, July 2004.

Only one of the UK's top five supermarkets has a website that meets even the most basic accessibility needs of disabled consumers, a survey by the charity AbilityNet (http://www.abilitynet.org) has found.

"State of the e-nation: online supermarkets" is an audit of websites operated by Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Somerfield and Tesco. Each site was tested for usability and accessibility using Watchfire's "Bobby" software (http://bobby.watchfire.com) and a range of manual checks. The sites were then ranked on a five-star scale, where one star signifies "very inaccessible" and five stars mean "very accessible."

The highest score of four stars went to Tesco's "alternative" site--http://www.tesco.com/access--which was the only site that could be easily accessed by those with visual impairments, dyslexia or a physical disability. Asda (http://www.asda.co.uk), Morrisons (http://www.morereasons.co.uk) and Sainsburys (http://www.sainsburys.co.uk) scored one star each, while Somerfield (http://www.somerfield.co.uk) and Tesco's mainstream site (http://www.tesco.com) fared marginally better with two stars.

Common problems encountered by AbilityNet's researchers included "hard-coded" text which could not be enlarged; a lack of text labels for images; and the use of JavaScript mini-programmes which aren't recognized by some older browsers or by some of the specialist browsers used by the visually impaired.

The report praised Somerfield for having the "most accessible of the 'mainstream' supermarket websites." However, its site is not e-commerce enabled and so doesn't offer the convenience of online shopping for disabled users, said the report.

"We are quite pleased with our two-star ranking, which is better than some of the other supermarket sites," said Nicholas Hall, marketing controller at Somerfield. "But we don't think we should be harshly judged for not offering an e-commerce site. It is a deliberate part of our strategy not to be an e-commerce operation, because we are a local high-street retailer that encourages people to physically visit our stores. We aren't like some of the larger supermarkets who often have stores out of town and are more suited to an e-commerce offering."

Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys and Somerfield have made pledges to improve the accessibility of their sites. The report says that by having inaccessible sites, the supermarkets are missing out on a market of over seven million people with an estimated spending power of 120 billion pounds a year.

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd.: http://www.headstar.com