November 2017 Issue  Volume 18  Number 11

2017 Holiday Shopping and Gift Giving

AccessWorld's 2017 Online Shopping Guide

AccessWorld wishes you a happy holiday season. It's November, the holidays are approaching, and it's time for the AccessWorld online shopping guide. This year, Hickory Farms, Macy's, ThinkGeek, and Walmart will be reviewed. Except for Hickory Farms, these retailers' websites have iOS apps for download. Be aware that websites and apps can change at any time.

No matter where you shop online, make sure you are using a reputable website or app. If you are new to online shopping, it is important to be familiar with your screen reader's hotkeys for forms, headings, links, and search. These hotkeys provide a quick way to navigate a page.

Hickory Farms

Hickory Farms sells gift baskets and specialty foods. When the home page loads, the customer service phone number, 800-753-8558, is near the top of the page. The home page contains clearly labeled links for logging in, registering, and accessing your account, along with a search form.

The search form consists of an edit box and a "Go" button. Search results can be found with the headings hotkey. Once you've searched for something, instead of having a "search results" heading, your results page will carry the name of your search. For example, if you search for "wine," the heading for your search results will be "Wine." Beneath the heading are options to refine results.

The Hickory Farms home page has an extensive list of categories including Gifts with Wine, Military Gifts, Personalized Gifts, and Gift Baskets. To get to the categories list quickly, use your screen reader's search command and enter "Shop by Category." Each category is presented a link. When one of these links is activated, the new page will have additional options.

After selecting an item, use the headings hot key to find "Details." All information is clearly labeled and there is a button to add the item to your cart. Unfortunately, audible verification is not provided when you add an item to your cart.

It's not easy to get to the cart. First, it's necessary to go back many pages. In addition, searching for the word "cart" will not bring you there. Search instead for "Your Bag." It appears that Hickory Farms uses these terms interchangeably across its website.

Removing an item from your cart isn't easy. To do so, you have to change the quantity edit box to 0 and then make sure to activate the "update" link. The checkout process is also difficult since form controls do not always work. In addition, the registration process is inaccessible and requires sighted assistance.

Getting Help and Conclusion

Telephone customer service is very friendly and helpful. They can do the entire ordering process for you, from choosing items to placing the order.

The process for finding an item on the Hickory Farms site works well, but finding your cart and checking out are frustrating. It's convenient that the contact phone number is at the top of the home page, and customer service is very helpful, but with some changes the site could be made much more accessible. There is no reason why someone with a visual impairment must call customer service rather than use the website independently. If I want to order from Hickory Farms, I will probably browse the website, make a list of what I want, and call customer service to place the order. I might also look for similar products on another retailer's more accessible site.

Macy's

As most shoppers know, Macy's carries clothing, shoes, jewelry, housewares, and much more. There are many clearly labeled links on its home page. Intrusive third-party ads also appear frequently throughout the site. The home page contains a search form consisting of an edit box and a "Submit Product Search" button.

Whether using the search form or links, results are easy to find with a screen reader's headings hotkey. Options for sorting results include: by price (low to high), top rated, and best sellers. If choosing clothing, there are additional filters, such as size and color. Depending on what you choose, it might be necessary to go through many filters. Although the headings hotkey can bring you to the results, there is no easy way to skip past the filter categories. There is also a link to see all options in a category or brand if you want to go through all the items available.

Each result is presented as a link. Below the link you'll find the price and available colors where applicable. Activating the link brings up a page with information about the item. This information can be located with the headings hot key. If an item is clothing or anything that has size and color options, you'll find links to select those options. There is a description of the item, price, and an "Add to Bag" button.

The shopping bag can't be accessed with headings navigation. Instead, use your screen reader's Find command and search for the words "Shopping Bag." Once you get to it, the bag is easy to review and links are provided to easily remove items. Below the bag is a list of suggested items you may also like.

The rest of the checkout process is impossible. The button to check out is an image, so VoiceOver can't read it. I used headings navigation to find the word "Accessibility," but no such heading existed. Using the search command, I found an icon that offered an app download for people who are visually impaired to make the site easier to use. I activated the accompanying link. When the next page loaded, there was some information about the app and a link for Mac users. I activated that link. Incredibly, the instructions said that I must put Windows on my Mac. It said to get Boot Camp and a current copy of Windows. Boot Camp is not accessible and a Mac user would need to spend a significant amount of money to put Windows on their Mac.

The Macy's App

The first time you use the Macy's app, you'll need to answer standard questions regarding notifications and location sharing.

At the top of the home screen is a button labeled "4."

Activating the "4" button brings up a list of shopping categories and a list of brands. At the top left of the screen is a menu button and at the top right is a button labeled, "Bag." The menu has many options including shopping categories, offers, and account. When the "Bag" button is activated, the current contents of your bag will be displayed.

Below those controls is an edit box to enter your search. Search results will automatically appear below the edit box. Before the list of results is an option to filter results. The picker to choose sorting order is at the bottom of the screen.

Each result will present the product name, price, offer code, and whether the product comes in additional colors. The VoiceOver rotor settings for links, headings, and form controls do not work on the results list and the product information page.

Activating a product's link will open a new page where you can select options such as quantity, size, or color. There is an "Add to Bag" button. Once an item is added to your bag, the number of items in the bag will be spoken when the "Bag" button is touched.

The first part of the checkout process went smoothly. There was a checkout button and all controls were clearly labeled for entering information. However, after entering your state, you'll find some unlabeled buttons. One unlabeled button was for the zip code. Once that was entered, the next unlabeled button was for a phone number. Below that was a checkbox for whether to make the address your default address, but the control did not speak the change for whether it was selected or not. At the top of the screen were options to save the address or add a shipping address.

The next page is used to select a shipping method. The only way to know if a specific method is selected is if the screen reader speaks the name again. To get to the next part of the checkout process, you must activate the "Back" button, which will bring you to the checkout form, which will contain the selected shipping method.

For the most part, the next page is clearly labeled. There are edit boxes to add your credit card type, number, and security code. After filling in each field, select the "Done" button. The edit box where you enter your card is a picker at the bottom of the page.

When I went to place my order, it would not go through and VoiceOver said the button was dimmed. I did not receive any messages regarding errors, so I had gone through the entire ordering procedure but could not place my order.

Getting Help and Conclusion

Macy's has 24/7 phone customer service that can be reached by calling 800-289-6229.

It's inconceivable that Macy's has such little regard for their customers with vision loss. Accessibility was neither implemented nor considered when the website and app were created. Visually impaired customers should not have to call Macy's phone customer support to place an order when fully sighted customers can use the website independently.

Likewise, it's not acceptable that an additional application is needed for visually impaired customers to use the Macy's website. I do a lot of online shopping, and I have never encountered this situation. Does Macy's realistically expect its customers with vision loss to purchase Windows? Windows 10 costs $119.00 from the Microsoft Store, plus you would then need to install a Windows screen reader. NVDA is free, but if you prefer JAWS, that would cost an additional $895. If you want to go back and forth from Mac to Windows, you would need to purchase VMWare Fusion which costs an additional $79.99. I suggest you save that money and spend it with an online retailer who has an accessible website.

Unless you have a PC or a Mac with Windows, I suggest skipping the Macy's site altogether. There is a lot of information on the pages, and they are not easy to navigate. If you are thinking about downloading the Macy's accessibility app, I recommend first trying some other retailers, because the app was disappointing. It was better than the website for finding information, but there were serious accessibility issues with its checkout process as well.

Macy's is not the only major online shopping website. If you really want to shop at Macy's, you may want to try using its app to choose items, and then call a customer service representative to place the order. Personally, I do not want to patronize a company that shows such little regard for accessibility and customers with vision loss.

ThinkGeek

There are two ways to shop on the ThinkGeek website, by interest or by category. Interests include Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Marvel. Categories include clothing, jewelry, bags & backpacks, and coffee mugs. Links on the home page are clearly labeled and there are many interesting items.

There is an edit box for searching the site. After typing in your search terms, just press the return key and use your screen reader's headings hotkey to find results.

A search for cookie cutters gives seven results, sortable by several options including name, price, and relevancy. Each result is presented as a link. Below the link are the price and how much you save buying the item from ThinkGeek. When you active a link for a search result, a new page loads with additional information about the item and a "Buy Now" button. Below the brief product description is a "Read More" link, which results in a lot of new product information, including suggestions for how to use the cookie cutters and how to clean them. This information can also be found on the page with the brief description, but you must get past all the social media information to find it.

Find your cart by using your screen reader's headings hotkey. When you hear "Your Loot," you have found the beginning of the section about your cart. Using the tables hotkey, you can jump directly into the list of items in your cart. There is also an "Update Cart" button if you make changes. Under the table are clearly labeled links to keep shopping or check out.

The checkout form is slightly different from the standard form, but all controls are labeled. You can check out without creating an account or fill out the boxes for your password and an account will be created.

ThinkGeek iOS App

When the ThinkGeek app is started for the first time, there are no notification requests and there is no request for permission to use your location. There are five tabs at the bottom of the screen: Discover, Shop, Favorites, My ThinkGeek and More. By default, the Discover tab is selected.

The Discover tab contains a variety of items that ThinkGeek is featuring. The Shop tab lets you shop by category or interest and provides links to featured products. Use the Favorites tab to save items that you might want later. The My Geek Stuff tab is for creating or logging into your account, for faster checkout, and for ThinkGeek offers. The More tab has ThinkGeek's customer service phone number, a Help/FAQs section, order look-up, and additional information including the company's privacy policy. I did not find a Search form in the app.

When a product link is selected, a new page loads with information including a clear description. When an item is selected for purchase, a new screen will load with the item's information and an option to remove it. Underneath the list of items to purchase are options to check out or pay with PayPal. The checkout process is straightforward and all controls are labeled. After selecting a shipping method, there is no audible feedback. When you land on a shipping option, you will hear its name and, if you select it, the name will be spoken again.

Getting Help and Conclusion

ThinkGeek can be reached by dialing 888-433-5788. The website also has an online help section.

Both the ThinkGeek website and iOS app are very accessible. Links are clearly labeled, and there is very little clutter on each page. This website is a good place to check if you are looking for unusual gifts.

Walmart

Walmart's home page can be overwhelming even to an experienced screen reader user. There are many links and a lot of clutter. There is a search form on the home page that is an edit box. Results appear below the form, but they are not easy to navigate.

The easiest way to find items is to use your screen reader's forms command and locate a pop-up button labeled "Shop All Departments." From the menu, pick the department you want. When you make a selection, the resulting page will feature many categories and ways to sort. For example, Toys and Games has learning toys, plush, and action figure categories, sortable by age, brand, price, and gender. Each product link has the name of the product plus important information such as price and age range.

When a product link is selected, a new page opens containing an Add to Cart button, ratings, a brief description, and a longer description that can be found with a screen reader's headings hotkey or by searching for the phrase "About this Item." When an item is added to your cart, the number of items in the cart is spoken.

The easiest way to find your shopping cart is to search for the word, "Cart." Cart information is clearly displayed and the checkout button is clearly labeled.

After the checkout page loaded, I was unable to enter my information because my Web browser, Safari, froze. Over several days, I made several attempts to fill out the checkout form, but the same thing happened each time. I tried on another computer with the same result. I used a different Wi-Fi network, with the same result. All the other apps that were open worked fine. Therefore, I was unable to checkout.

Walmart's iOS App

The first time you open the Walmart app, you will be asked if Walmart can use your location and can send push notifications.

There are five tabs at the bottom of the screen: Shop, Reorder, Stores, Cart, and Account. Use the Shop tab to choose items. The Reorder tab is for items that are frequently ordered. The Stores tab shows the location of nearby Walmarts. The Cart tab displays the items in your cart. The Account tab has your account information including name, email, and purchase history.

At the top of the home screen is a "Sign In" button and an edit box for searching. This can be a quick way to find an item if you have a good idea of what you want.

Perform a search by entering a search term into the edit box. Results will automatically appear below the form. Select the result you want. The next page will display the result along with filtering options if necessary. Near the top right of the screen are two tabs: Walmart.com and Store. Make sure the Walmart.com tab is selected if you want to shop online. Get more information about an item by selecting it.

The information page will have an "Add to Cart" button, information about the product, and age range, if applicable. If the "Add to Cart" button is activated, checking the Cart tab at the bottom of the screen will tell you how many items are in your cart.

When the Shop tab is selected, there is also a button labeled, "Shop by Department." Activating the button brings up a list of Walmart's many departments. Once a department is selected, a new list of department-specific items is presented. Results can be filtered to narrow the search. The procedure for choosing, reviewing, and adding an item to your cart is the same as described above.

The Cart tab has information clearly displayed. When choosing the shipping option, VoiceOver said the item was selected, but then said the radio button for that method was not checked.

Getting Help and Conclusion

Technical support for Walmart.com can be reached by dialing 800-966-6546. They have a help center where you can submit a question or review how to perform actions such as returning an item or checking a Walmart gift card balance.

Walmart is the most popular retailer in the US. It is extremely disappointing that its website is so difficult to navigate for someone who is visually impaired. The layout is very cluttered and it appears that accessibility was not of high importance when Walmart was creating its website.

The Walmart app is significantly easier to use than the website. The app is clearly labeled and not cluttered. The website is useable, but is significantly more work and takes longer to use. If you try the website, hopefully your Web browser won't lock up during the checkout process. Spending a good deal of time navigating the site, selecting items, and struggling through cluttered pages just to have the browser freeze in the checkout process certainly takes some cheer from your holiday spirit, to say the least.

The Bottom Line

ThinkGeek, the smallest retailer evaluated for this article, had the best website and iOS app shopping experience in terms of accessibility and usability. This retailer obviously took care to incorporate accessible design standards to include customers who are visually impaired. Hickory Farms, Macy's, and Walmart could do a much better job making their sites more accessible and inclusive of customers with vision loss.

Based on my evaluation of the above retailers, my recommendation is to check out ThinkGeek. Its website and app are easy to navigate, and it has many products for sale. I suggest staying entirely away from Macy's. Try using Walmart's iOS app rather than its website. If you need to order gift baskets and similar items, you can phone Hickory Farms or you can search on other, more accessible websites.

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