Making accessibility a first-class citizen in mobile retail apps

Building a great retail mobile app requires attention to a number of details. You need to craft a user-friendly interface. You must streamline performance. You need to ensure a simple and reliable checkout process.

But here’s another factor in mobile retail app success that you may be overlooking: Accessibility. Without accessibility, retail apps do a poor job of attracting and retaining customers. By extension, they don’t drive the revenue that they could.

That’s why accessibility must be a first-class citizen in retail application development and testing processes. Let me elaborate by explaining the role that accessibility plays in retail app success, as well as how to make accessibility a primary consideration when building retail apps.

What is accessibility?

Let’s start with the basics by defining the meaning of accessibility — which is broader than you might think.

When most folks think of accessibility, their minds tend to go to users who require assistive technologies, like screen readers, to use applications. That’s certainly one element of accessibility, and ensuring that your apps work with tools like screen readers is one step toward delivering a great experience for all end-users.

But accessibility also encompasses users who require changes to an application’s appearance, even if they don’t use assistive technology. For example, users who increase the font size within apps, or who change the screen resolution, in order to make the app easier to use must be factored into mobile app accessibility strategies.

Why accessibility is critical to retail apps

Accessibility should be a priority for applications in any industry. But for retail in particular, creating accessible mobile apps is especially critical.

Part of the reason why is that accessibility issues can lead to a loss of revenue for retail businesses. For instance, if users modify the screen resolution of an app in a way that causes a checkout button to disappear, a business might miss out on revenue. From the business’s perspective, that’s worse than accessibility problems in other types of apps, where the issues might be annoying for users but don’t translate to major revenue loss.

In addition, accessibility plays an important role in brand loyalty for retailers. Users who depend on assistive technologies might become loyal customers of a particular retailer specifically because of the accessibility experience that its apps provide. But if bugs or design changes undercut accessibility, even in just part of the app, those customers are likely to flock to competitors.

The bottom line: To maximize revenue and increase customer retention, retailers need to ensure their mobile apps are accessible to all users and potential users.
Best practices for accessibility in retail mobile apps

How do you actually make mobile apps that are accessible?

The answer starts with app design and development. Programmers should ensure that they adhere to guidelines like the W3C accessibility standards, which define the characteristics that apps should possess in order to be accessible. Designing apps to integrate easily with screen readers, and providing options to modify content layout and appearance, are also important steps toward developing an accessible app.

However, simply tasking developers with the mission of creating accessible software isn’t enough. Businesses must also ensure that they can test their apps in order to validate that the accessibility features that are supposed to be present are usable. Otherwise, they risk planning accessibility features that don’t actually work, or that cause unanticipated issues for users.

That’s where software testing comes in. In addition to testing mobile apps across different mobile devices, operating systems and browsers, businesses should also test based on different accessibility configurations. These tests ensure that if, for instance, a change in font size pushes important visual elements off the screen, developers can rectify the issue before the app is delivered to end-users.

Of course, testing for multiple accessibility configurations across multiple device environment configurations can require enormous amounts of time if you run all of the tests manually. But with the help of automated mobile testing, it becomes possible to test all of the permutations you need in a fast and efficient way.

In particular, automated mobile testing offers a means of validating visual elements to detect changes in the appearance of content layout or distortion of images, which could result when certain accessibility options are enabled within an app. In addition, automated mobile testing platforms support accessibility validations that assess whether apps meet accessibility standards, such as whether alternative text displays where it should.

Some amount of manual testing will always be required to ensure accessibility. For example, if you want to determine whether user controls for manually moving content within a page work as they should, or how an app accepts custom audio input, you would typically need to run those tests manually. But the bulk of accessibility tests can run automatically, which both saves time and increases the number of configurations that businesses can reasonably test for.

More than a checkbox…

It can be tempting to treat accessibility within mobile apps merely as a box to check off, or to assume that accessibility isn’t very important from a business perspective. But in the retail industry in particular, accessibility is crucial for creating successful mobile apps.

That’s why developers must make accessibility a prime consideration from the start of the application design process, then run rigorous tests to ensure that apps actually provide the accessibility features that they are supposed to deliver.

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