An Accessibility Check of Popular Online Shopping Sites
The holiday season is rapidly approaching. In fact, if you celebrate Chanukah, it's just a few weeks away as it begins on the evening of December 1. Instead of fighting crowds to get to employees who are unable to answer your questions, or finding out that your item is no longer in stock, consider buying your gifts online. You can shop anytime and just use the website's search features to find what you want. Many online retailers have more than one way to search, including by category, price, and by placing the name of an item into an edit box.
When choosing an online shopping site, pick one that is reputable. You will be providing credit card numbers, your address, and other information about yourself. Ask friends or family for recommendations or use sites from major retailers. It's possible to find different prices for the same item on different websites, so shop around before making your purchase. Also, check shipping costs on each website. Some offer free shipping, but do not have this as their default setting. Usually, when free shipping is offered, it will take longer to arrive, but if you shop early, this shouldn't be a problem.
This article will review websites from the following major retailers: Macy's, Toys"R"Us, Best Buy, and Walmart. In addition, two sites designed for people with visual impairments will be reviewed: Amazon's accessible website and Blind Mice Mart.
Prior to beginning the online shopping process, learn your screenreader's hot keys for finding words, headings, tables, links, and forms. These keys will save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. In addition, because you will have to input information when you purchase items, you must know how to use form controls, such as edit boxes, combo boxes, check boxes, radio buttons, and buttons that will perform specific actions. For this article, I used a PC running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8, and Window-Eyes 7.2. When the word "click" appears in the article, it means to activate a link rather than clicking the physical mouse.
Amazon.com's Accessible Site
If you have never tried online shopping before, this might be a good place to start. The accessible version of Amazon.com has significantly less clutter than the regular site. If you know exactly what you want, shopping can be relatively easy. Also, Amazon, like many other online retailers, offers free shipping when more than a designated amount of money is spent. Not all Amazon items are eligible for free shipping as the website will link you to other retailers if Amazon doesn't carry the item. If the item does qualify for free shipping, it will be stated within the item's description.
When the homepage loads, there are clearly labeled links, including Books, DVDs, and Music. Activating any of those links will bring up a list of top sellers in that category. There is a search form that consists of an edit box and a search button.
I put the word "Beatles" in the edit box and clicked the search button. Because my term was so general, I got a lot of hits, including CDs, T-shirts, and posters. Along with my results, a combo box appeared to narrow my search criteria. I chose "music" from the combo box and, although I still got a lot of results, they were all music. I selected the Beatles stereo box set.
Clicking on the link for the item loaded a new page with two clearly labeled buttons, one to add the item to my cart and the other to add it to my wish list. There's also a link that says, "Description & Details." When that link was activated, the new page gave some information about the CD and, most importantly, the track list for all 16 CDs in the box set. There wasn't a form control to add the item to the shopping cart, but using the alt-left arrow keystroke, the previous page was loaded and the button was easily located. The next page had clearly labeled buttons to check out or keep shopping. Items in the cart were clearly displayed near the top of the page.
The checkout procedure is straightforward and all form controls speak when registering for the site. If you have met the criteria for free shipping, this will not be the default shipping method when you check out. Rather, there will be a button to change the shipping method; activate that button, and on the next page, select the radio button for free shipping.
The Bottom Line
The main drawback of this site is that there isn't any live help, but there is an online help section. Everything is clearly labeled and the site is easy to navigate.
Blind Mice Mart
The Blind Mice Mart website has many items specifically designed for people with visual impairments, plus hundreds of items for the general population. Even if you decide not to purchase anything, check out the link to their "Blind Mice Movie Vault."
At the top of the homepage is information about some popular products for people with visual impairments. There is a list of search categories that can be easily located by using a screenreader's table hot key. In addition, there is a search form comprising an edit box and search button.
When a category search is performed, the results are displayed as tables. Each item is described, and the retail and Blind Mice Mart savings prices are listed. There are clearly labeled links to place the item in your cart or to your wish list. If a search is performed using the search form, the results are listed and can be found by using your screenreader's find hot key for the word "results."
Because I have been looking for a fruit and vegetable slicer, I chose the "Cutting, Slicing and Chopping" category. Among the results was exactly what I wanted, an "Adjust-A-Slice" mandolin. This is a mainstream product. The description was clear and it specifically said that it was designed to protect fingers. Clicking on the item's link gave me even more useful information. When viewing the item's link, buttons are used to add the item to the cart. Either way, you can check if the item has been added by finding the link that says, "Your Cart." Do not activate the link, but instead, arrow down one line and the number of items and total cost will be there. Of course, a more detailed description is available if you activate the link. Cart information is clearly labeled and there are links to delete an item, keep shopping, or check out.
Although the registration process is straightforward, many of the edit boxes to input information do not speak. In some cases, irrelevant text was spoken. The workaround for Window-Eyes is to turn browse mode on to check what information goes into a specific edit box and then turn browse mode off to enter the text. There is a CAPTCHA, but the audio version is extremely clear and only a few digits. There is an option to receive e-mail notifications about sales. These e-mails are easy to navigate and links are provided within the e-mail to go directly to a specific item.
The Bottom Line
Assistance is available by phone, Skype, or e-mail. All links are clearly labeled and once your initial registration form is completed, it's easy to log into the website.
When the Toys"R"Us website loads, there are over 300 links and many ways to search. Although there is a "Gift Finder" link near the top of the page, it does not provide a form to enter your criteria. In fact, when the link is activated, there are some broken links and some information about gift cards. If you know what you want to get, there is a search form containing a categories combo box, including "All Products" and "Toys & Games."
My nephew loves the Cadillac Escalade, so I entered the word "Escalade" in the edit box and searched within the "Toys & Games" category in the combo box. To find results, search for the term entered in the edit box. I found my results by searching for the word "Escalade." The results were clearly displayed and I could narrow my results by several categories, including age and gender. When I found the toy I wanted, there were basic details, including description, price, and the fact that there was free shipping for the item. In order to add the item to my cart, I had to click on the item's link. When the new page loaded, by using Window-Eyes' find form hot key, I eventually came to the edit box that said that I want one car. The link to then add the item to my cart was under that box. When the new page loaded, there was a table with the item in my cart.
The advantage of Toys"R"Us is that a user can do searches by categories. This can be very useful if you're not exactly sure what you want to get. There are links to search by age, gender, brand, and more. The difficult part is finding specific links as table and heading screenreader hot keys do not work. It might be worth the time to scroll through the various links to determine what is available. Some of the links are broken and consist of a few words and then a string of numbers. To find the links to search by the child's age, use your screenreader's find command and look for the words "birth-12 months." Directly under that link are links for other age groups. Other useful category links include Dolls, Blocks, Riding Games, Boys, and Girls. Once you locate the words, there will be additional links within each category.
Check-out and creating an account are mostly easy. All form controls speak, but toward the end of the checkout process, just under the credit card information, there is a great deal of information about having payments deferred. Under all that is the button for continuing the checkout process.
The Bottom Line
Even though it might take some extra time searching the links, in my opinion, it's better than going to the actual store and dealing with the crowds. Telephone help is not offered, but there is an online help section and a form to e-mail customer support.
The links on the Macy's homepage are clearly labeled and there is not a lot of clutter. Toward the bottom of the page there is a link for visually impaired customers to download their user-assistance tool. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the tool is a third-party application. If you cannot see the screen or you already have software to enlarge text, then this application is not necessary.
Searches can be performed through a search form consisting of an edit box and search button or by specific categories including Men, Women, Jewelry, and Bed & Bath.
I decided to check out clothing for petite women. Right on the homepage, there was a link to this category. My results were easy to find and there were many ways to sort the results, including by type of item, brand, and size. Another way to perform the search was to type the word "petite" in the search form or to first search for women's clothing, which would then bring up a link for petite women's clothing.
I first sorted my results by size, and when the new page loaded, I further refined my results by choosing the "sweaters" category. To find the results, use your screenreader's form controls, and directly under the combo box for results per page, are links for the results. Clicking on an item's link will load a new page where you can select size and color through combo boxes and add the item to your shopping bag with a button. Above the size combo box, there is some information about the item, but the amount of information varies with each item. There is a link that says, "Shopping Bag" and under it is the number of items currently in your bag.
In order to purchase items, you must create a profile. All form controls speak, and there are check boxes for whether you want to receive e-mails or texts from Macy's.
The Bottom Line
The clearly labeled search options make this website a possible place to shop if you're looking for items that Macy's carries. The pages where items are described can get cluttered, but most of the useful information is toward the top of the page. There is online help, but no phone support.
Although the Best Buy homepage has more than 300 links, with the use of a screenreader's headings hot key, it's relatively easy to find specific categories of electronics and accessories. Categories include Computers, Audio Equipment, and Home and Appliances. Within each category, is a list of subcategories. There is also a gift center where gift ideas are displayed according to gender and general age. A section called "Featured Offers" can be found by using those words with your screenreader's find command. In addition, there is a search form consisting of an edit box, combo box, and a search button.
Because I didn't know what to get for a female teenager, I activated the link in the gift center that said "For Teen Girls." When the new page loaded, the results could be sorted further by price, shipping cost, and brand. Sorting results is accomplished by links. Under each link is the number of results available for that selection. To find results throughout the sorting process, find the words "current offers," and the results will be just below those words. I chose gifts for under $50 and my results were basically displayed in the same format as the search. In addition, by searching for the words "shop category," I could find my search results by category.
There were four results in the audio category; when the link was activated, a new page loaded with the results. On this page, there was a combo box to sort the results by price and best selling. Even if you don't want to bother with the combo box, it's an easy way to locate your results. Using the headings hot key from your screenreader can move you around the results, but you will have to use your up and down arrow keys as well. The result text begins with a model number, the price, a link to add the item to your cart, and finally, on the fourth line of the result, the name of the item, presented as a link. The additional information provided includes customer rating and shipping information.
I chose a pair of headphones that cost under $25 and clicked on the link for the item. There were many check boxes to write or print reviews. The easiest way to find information about the item was to look for the word "overview" and then arrow down. Overview provides ratings snapshots followed by information about the item. To put the item into the cart, activate the "add to cart" link.
Once the item was added, the shopping cart was easily found by using Window-Eyes' table hot key. All of the relevant information was there in the table. There was also an option to have the item shipped or to check store availability. A second table listed the item plus a form to calculate shipping. Below the second table was the link to check out.
The check out page has edit boxes for returning customers to enter their user name and password. There are two buttons for people who do not have accounts. The first button is for those who want to create an account and the second is for customers who want to purchase items, but do not wish to create an account. The check-out process is straightforward and all form controls speak.
The Bottom Line
Several years ago, I reviewed this website as part of an online shopping article for AccessWorld. I am happy to say that Best Buy has improved their website significantly for people with visual impairments. Links are clearly labeled and, although each page contains a lot of information, there isn't too much clutter. It might be simpler if the "add to cart" link and several other actions could be buttons rather than a link as they would be easier to locate, but overall, if you can use your screenreader's headings, find, and table hot keys, this site is easy to navigate. If you have a problem, live and online help are available.
As with most online websites, there is more than one way to search for an item on the Walmart website. There's a search form comprising an edit box and a search button or you can navigate by categories. Activating any of the category links will bring up a list of subcategories. For example, in the electronics category, iPods and MP3 players and computers were subcategories. In the iPods and MP3 players category, there were results for Apple iPods, MP3 accessories, and a link to see all MP3 players. To find results, search for the word "shop" followed by the name of the category you are searching. In this case, "shop electronics." The results are provided under those words. After the results is a list of related categories and then links to shop by price.
I chose the option to view all MP3 players; when the page loaded, I could narrow my results, via check boxes, according to capacity, brand, and price. Once I made my selection based on capacity, a new page loaded that indicated how many players, within each brand and within each price range, met the search criteria. Additional options, such as color, were narrowed down through check boxes, and there was a link to update results at the end of the form.
The results appeared underneath the same form. The form allows users to make changes to the search, but this can make results difficult to find. By using arrow keys or link hot keys, the results can be read. The results include the product name, customer rating, and price. There is no link or button to add the item to the shopping cart at this point. Therefore, the item's link must be activated.
Once the new page loads, the first table contains the name of the product, the price, and some additional information, plus a button to add the item to the cart. There is a second table that discusses customer ratings, model number, and product size. The shopping cart is not clearly labeled. The easiest way to view contents is to use form controls; right under the search form is the shopping cart. After the description of the contents, there's a link to check out.
The registration page asks new customers to click a link labeled "continue" in order to begin the registration process. Returning customers are asked to enter their e-mail and password.
The registration form is standard and the edit boxes do speak. There are some items on the Walmart site, such as the iPod I selected, that must be picked up at a store. Within the registration form is a link to select a store; when the link is activated, a table appears with information about several of the nearest Walmart stores. Once the selection is made, the registration process continues.
The Bottom Line
Live help is available by phone and online. The site can be a bit tricky, but with some patience and practice, it works well.
With some patience and practice, people who are blind or have low vision can successfully use many online shopping websites. If you're having a problem and live help is available, call and ask for assistance.
It's important to remember that online retailers, like the actual stores, get very busy as the holidays approach. Many online retailers have special discounts on "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, but even with a high-speed Internet connection, an online shopping site might be particularly slow during "high-traffic" times. Check the site out in advance and determine if the item you want is available. Also, shop as early in the day as you can. No matter what day you shop, don't wait too long as retailers can run out of stock or your package may get lost in transit.
Shop early and don't forget to compare prices. Happy shopping!
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