Canadian Retail Sector Ranks Last in Digital Accessibility: Experts

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Canada’s retail sector ranks last in terms of digital accessibility and Canadian retailers have a long way to go to become digitally inclusive, according to Siteimprove’s Accessibility World Map.

Mike Cart, Managing Director of Siteimprove, the company that launched Accessibility World Map, said Canada trails a number of developed nations, including the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia, in the ranking out of 100 with 100 being the most digitally accessible and 0 being the least digitally accessible.

Canada scores 63 out of 100. Globally, the U.S. has the highest score with 65, and United Arab Emirates has the lowest score with 58. Of the Canadian industries ranked, Education is the highest with a score of 66. Retail ranks the lowest with a score of 59, meaning that Canadian retailers are missing out on a large percentage of potential customers, said Cart.

Other Canadian industries are ranked as follows (from most inclusive to least inclusive): Government – 65; Healthcare – 64; Financial Services – 63; Manufacturing – 61; Tourism and Hospitality – 60

“We’re kind of right in the middle towards the upper part of the scores of the 28 countries that we have. There’s different ways of being able to take a look at it. One is the legislation. So depending on the country and legislation. That’s the number one piece we see that impacts scores and just importance and drivers from an urgency standpoint,” said Cart.

Countries like the U.S. as well as different European and Scandinavian countries have had kind of a finger on the pulse from the digital accessibility realm just longer than Canada has.”

Siteimprove is a Software as a Service that specializes in digital presence optimization. It scans public facing website content of companies and organizations and based on the different modules and algorithms that it has it will detect deficiencies and report back in a friendly way to be able to fix those deficiencies.

Digital accessibility is being able to accommodate different preferences people have when they use technology.

“Different people have different preferences as well as different people have different user needs. So everybody thinks that digital accessibility is only for individuals specifically that might be for example blind or are not able to use a keyboard,” said Cart. “That’s not necessarily the full truth  . . . The obvious people think of is individuals that might be visually impaired or cognitive abilities but it’s looking at the full scope of being able to accommodate all different preferences depending on the user needs.”

The purpose of the new Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81)* is to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction. It outlines how to identify and remove accessibility barriers and prevent new barriers, under federal rule, including information and communication technologies (digital content and technologies used to access it).

Cart said about one in five  Canadians have a disability and creating a Canada where everyone can participate fully without barriers is long overdue — and not just in the physical sense.

“We’re just starting to see companies and industries wake up to the fact that all Canadians deserve equal access to websites and digital platforms,” said Cart.

“We’ve been working with clients from all of these sectors over the last couple of years. And to be frank, we aren’t surprised to see retail rank the lowest, as the industry has a lot to do to catch up to some of its more digitally inclusive counterparts. Making e-commerce sites more inclusive is beneficial for many reasons, including reaching a potential 22 per cent of the customer base that’s being missed out on.

“There’s a couple of things for retail that I see. That’s something that didn’t necessarily shock me. Number one is we’re scanning the pages of content on someone’s website. So the retail websites that we scan are by far the biggest from a quantity standpoint. So the larger sample size means a larger area to cover. So with that being said there’s just more work to do as well as compared to say education, government that do have the highest scores . . . They’ve been focusing on it a little longer than some of the other privatized areas. That’s where you see the direct correlation of the combination of time focused on that for the majority as well as just the sheer size of the scope that they’re dealing with.”

Cart said retailers need to take a look at what they’re doing and have a strategy. It’s not a project but it’s a process. It’s a constant ongoing solution so teams have tools in place such as an automated checker like a Siteimprove but also being able to also then have in place different ways of prioritizing things.

“A lot of people get overwhelmed for retail specifically. The sheer size of the project. Something like Siteimprove we’re going to be able to take a look at the entire kit and kaboodle of their site which could be tens of thousands of pages but then being able to really break it down to more digestible steps to be able to put a plan in place where you’re able to achieve certain goals,” said Cart.

“Being able to work within our resources and with our team to help them do that has been something that we’ve been able to partner with here in Canada to be able to really show progress and being able to say it’s not something that’s going to take forever. It’s a process and it takes time to do it. But through a strategy and through the support our resources and individuals here as well as the software, it’s something that we’ve seen retailers over the course of the past couple of years make significant progress and are continuing to expand our customer base in that sector.”

Country scores of the Accessibility Map are: Australia – 64; Austria – 62, Canada – 63; Denmark – 64; Estonia – 63; Finland – 62; France – 60; German – 62; Iceland – 63; Italy – 62; Japan – 64; Netherlands – 64; Norway – 64; Spain – 63; Sweden – 64; Switzerland – 64; United Kingdom – 64; United States – 65; United Arab Emirates – 58; Belgium – 62; New Zealand – 62; Portugal – 63; Brazil – 62; Chile – 60; India – 61; Mexico – 62; Russia – 61; South Africa – 59

*Editor’s Note: The Accessible Canada Act has since become law, an exciting development as the Act was expected to receive Royal Assent this summer.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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