2014 is coming to a close and the holidays are just around the corner, so it's time for AccessWorld's online shopping guide. This year's guide features Amazon's accessible website, Zappos, Wine.com, and L'OCCITANE en Provence (pronounced "lox-ee-tan"). Since many online merchants use PayPal as a payment option, information on setting up a PayPal account will also be presented in this article.
Before You Shop
The importance of shopping only on reputable websites cannot be overstated. When looking for a product online, consider shopping on sites from major retailers or sites that you learned about through family and friends. Unfortunately, not all websites are easily accessible. If you're having difficulty with a site, try a different one. If you're new to online shopping, read the section about Amazon's accessible site. Remember, website designs and formats are constantly changing, so the format of these websites may have changed from what is described here.
For this article I used Windows 7, Internet Explorer, and the latest version of Window-Eyes. The sites also work well with the Safari browser and VoiceOver screen reader. Whichever screen reader you use, familiarize yourself with navigation commands and form controls. Some pages can be navigated easily by headings, but if there aren't any headings on a given page, you'll need to navigate by another unit, such as links. The screen reader "Find" command can help you get to information quickly. Forms are used for entering search criteria, choosing a sub-category or price range for your search, and entering account information. They can also be a handy navigation tool: some retailers have a combo box (located just above the search results) for sorting results. This combo box can bring you quickly to your desired choice.
Many online merchants offer the option of checking out with PayPal. It only takes a few minutes to set up a PayPal account. When the homepage loads, a lot of information is given and there are some form controls. Review the information with your arrow keys. Begin the sign up process by activating the "Sign Up" link on the PayPal homepage. When the new page loads, the first controls are two radio buttons, one for personal use and one for business use. Make sure the personal button is checked. The next control is a "Continue" button. On the next screen use your screen reader's heading key to find "Get Started." The first control will be a combo box to choose a country. By default, the US is selected. There's also an edit box for your e-mail address followed by an edit box to choose a password and another edit box to confirm your password. Next comes a CAPCHA with an audio option. The final control on the page is a "Continue" button.
On the next page, you'll need to enter your name, address, and telephone number. Next, there is another CAPTCHA, then a checkbox to accept PayPal's terms, and then a "Continue" button.
By this time, you should receive a welcome e-mail from PayPal asking you to verify your account. The e-mail will also contain information about PayPal's services.
Once you've logged into your account on the PayPal website, you'll be asked to choose two security questions. If you forget your password, you'll be asked to verify your identity by answering these questions. To add credit or debit card information, activate the link that says "Wallet" at the top of the page. You can also link your PayPal account with your bank account from the "Wallet" link.
Anytime you are using the Internet or e-mail, you can get a message from scammers pretending to be PayPal. This may be particularly deceptive if by coincidence you happen to be in the process of signing up or signing in. Check the sender's address and never activate links that say "click here" or something similar. If you get an e-mail asking you to enter personal information, delete it immediately. If you're not sure if the e-mail is real, you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will let you know if the e-mail came from PayPal.
PayPal has a good online help section that covers many topics, and you can get live customer support by activating the "Contact" link. Then activate the "Call Us" link. Next, search for the words "Call Us." Just below those words is a phone number and a pass code you'll need to enter when you call. The code is valid for 60 minutes.
The Bottom Line for PayPal
PayPal is a very convenient way to pay for items purchased on many websites, including eBay. It takes time to set up the account, but the benefits are worth the effort. A good online help section and live customer service make PayPal an excellent website.
Whether you are new to online shopping or a seasoned pro, Amazon's accessible website is a good place to start. All controls are clearly labeled and the screen is uncluttered. This site contains less information than the regular Amazon.com site, but it is far easier to navigate. Consider doing your initial search on the accessible site and then, if you need more information about a specific item, try using the full version.
The homepage for this website loads with 18 clearly labeled links. Among these links are your account, your wish list, and recommendations specifically for you. The search form consists of an edit box and a "Go" button. When you perform a search, the next page presents the same two form controls are presented as well as a combo box to further sort your search results. There are many categories in the combo box including software, electronics, and digital music. Before using the combo box, check to determine whether your initial search provided what you wanted. There may be no need to do a refined search. Search results are listed below the search form. Each link contains the name of the item, the cost, how much you save, and additional relevant information such as manufacturer and shipping cost.
To find a carrying bag for an 11-inch MacBook Air laptop computer, I entered "11 MacBook Air bag" in the search form and it yielded several results including sleeves and cases. It is possible to limit your search results by adding additional information to your search. I activated the link for a bag I liked. In the description I learned that shipping was free since the bag exceeded Amazon's $35 minimum purchase. Not all items on Amazon ship for free so read the information carefully.
In addition to the item information, Amazon provides links for customer reviews, the average customer review, and product details. Activating the details link, I learned about the features of the bag, including material and how many pockets it had.
If you want to add the item to your cart and you're on the product details page, activate the "product main" link, which will bring you back to the main product page. There, you'll find the "Add to Cart" button. Once the item is added to the cart, there is a "Proceed to Checkout" button and a link to continue shopping.
The checkout process is mostly straightforward, but pay careful attention to the shipping method. Although my bag had free shipping available, when I looked at the shipping speed, free shipping was not selected. I made the change to free shipping using a radio button and completed the checkout process. Amazon also offers a feature called "1-Click Settings." This feature lets the user checkout with one click rather than going through the checkout process. Remember, if you use this setting, you may be paying more than you planned for shipping.
The accessible Amazon site has a help section that consists of a variety of topics, including how to purchase an item and how to access the full Amazon site. Unfortunately, it is not possible to access the links to get to live help. For that, you'll need to go to the regular site. Once there, activate the "help" link. On the next page, activate the "Need More Help" link. On the next page, activate the "Contact Us" link. When the new page loads, find the link that says, "Screen reader users, click here for a Contact Us form optimized for the visually impaired." The form consists of a combo box to choose an issue and another combo box to refine the issue. Next are links for how you want Amazon to contact you. The options are phone and e-mail. If you choose phone on the next page, there are three edit boxes to enter your phone number and links for being called now or in 5 minutes. There is also an automated customer service system at 888-280-3321.
The Bottom Line for Amazon's Accessible Site
Amazon's accessible site is uncluttered and easy to navigate. It would be great if the form to get live help was on this website so it wouldn't be necessary to go to the regular site. If you can use your screen reader's navigation keys for links, headings, and searching for text, then it isn't too difficult to get to live help.
Zappos started as a shoe retail website. They have expanded to include many more items such as clothing, handbags, and accessories. Zappos is known for its excellent customer service, free shipping, and a one-year return policy.
The Zappos home page has many category links including "Women," "Men," "Kids," "Shoes," "Accessories," and "Clothing." There's also a "Brands" link. The site presents some of its best-selling brands as links as well. Their customer service number is near the top of the page.
The search form consists of an edit box and a "Search" button. I entered "Petite Cardigan" in the edit box and executed the search. I quickly found results with the headings hot key. Results were also broken down by headings, including designer, material, and price. I found a cardigan that sounded promising and activated its link.
By using my screen reader's headings hot key, I was able to quickly find my result. The item description was very detailed and easy to navigate with arrow keys. Further down the page were suggestions of other products I might like and then there was a section where I could write an item review. Below this was a section to order the cardigan, found by using the headings key or form key.
The first part of the order form was a combo box to choose color followed by another combo box to choose size. Next was a button to add the item to my cart. The shopping cart was easily located with a table hot key. All the relevant information about the item was clearly listed, including size, color, and price. Under the cart information were options to proceed to checkout or continue shopping.
On the checkout page was a link to create an account and a log in form for account holders. The form for creating an acount was clearly labeled and asked for your name, e-mail address, and password. The rest of the checkout form was clear and easy to navigate.
The Zappos customer service number, 800-927-7671, is posted near the top of the page. They are available 24/7. Every time I've spoken with customer service they have been extremely helpful and they were happy to describe an item in greater detail when I explained I was blind.
The Bottom Line on Zappos
Zappos is a very accessible website with many links that can be navigated with a screen reader. Their excellent customer service makes Zappos a fantastic option for online shopping.
One of the reasons this website was selected is because of the company's commitment to assisting people with visual impairments through their La Fondation d' Entreprise. L'Occitane has braille labeling on most of its packaging. The foundation goes further by facilitating professional integration of the visually impaired and fighting preventable blindness in developing countries.
There were many links on the homepage, along with a search form that had an edit box and a "Search" link. Heading navigation was not useful on this website, but all links were clearly labeled and the page was uncluttered.
I activated the link for "Bath and Body" and found a shower gel that interested me. Activating the product link brought me to a page where I was able to find my result with my screen reader's headings hot key. The information on the page was easy to read, including a description of the product. There was a combo box to change quantity if desired. Towards the bottom of the page were other suggested items. These could also be found with the headings hot key. I used the "Add to Bag" link to purchase the product.
On the next page, I could again find my result with the headings hot key. Underneath the product was a message that the item was in my bag and below that was a link to checkout. Activating that link brought me to a new page. There was an edit box for my e-mail address and a link to register. The next page had a form for entering registration information. All form controls were labeled and the registration process was not difficult.
L'Occitane's customer service phone number, 888-623-2880, appears on many pages throughout the site.
The Bottom Line on L'Occitane
Although this website has many links, it is well organized and easy to navigate. Product descriptions are clearly displayed. You can also find L'Occitane products at Sephora, Sephora.com, Amazon.com, and the Amazon accessible website. L'Occitane's commitment to people who are visually impaired provides another excellent reason to consider this website for your holiday shopping.
Whether you are a wine enthusiast or know very little about wine, check out Wine Ratings to learn more. This information may be of use whether you are considering purchasing wine from wine.com, another online merchant, or your local store.
The first control on the wine.com website is a combo box to choose your shipping destination. Once a destination is chosen you'll get an estimate of how long a shipment may take to arrive. You can also pick up your wine at many Federal Express stores.
Selecting a Wine
Using Internet Explorer, I could not locate the search form, but it was easily located using Safari. I entered the name of a wine I like, and the search results were easy to find with the headings hot key. The results didn't show the wine I was looking for, but they did offer a similar option. Instead, I activated the "90+ rated under $20" link.
The next page had links to further refine the search. You could search by color or if you knew the type of wine you wanted, there were links to each type of wine. I searched for a Pinot Noir.
On the next page there was information about various available Pinot Noirs. Wines were grouped in several ways including country, type of cap, and taste. There was a sorting combo box which offered several options including Just In and Popular.
I found an interesting wine. Information presented included the name, where the wine is from, the maker, the usual price, and the price from Wine.com. There was a button to add the bottle to the cart.
Unfortunately, this is where I had a problem. When the next page loaded, I could not find any way to access my cart. With sighted assistance I learned that the cart was an unlabeled graphic. I called customer service and was told that they would be happy to help me with my order, and that it could be taken over the phone.
Wine.com can be reached at 800-592-5870.
The Bottom Line for Wine.com
This website contains a great deal of information and offers many wines at all price levels. Wine.com was significantly more accessible using Safari than Internet Explorer. Although I couldn't find my shopping cart with either browser, the customer service department was very helpful and willing to help place my order. If you're searching for wines, visit the website, make a list of the wines you want and call customer service. You don't have to be a wine expert since the customer service department will be glad to answer your wine questions.
With some time and practice all these websites can be used. Don't hesitate to call customer service. Remember to do your shopping as early as possible. Happy Holidays!