Services are increasingly moving online, and consequently, the usability of websites is becoming much more important. Gone are the days when a cluttered layout, intrusive pop up ads and garish colour contrasts made up an acceptable user experience (UX). Yet, when we recently undertook research into the user experience of some of the biggest travel websites, a worrying number were failing to offer a good UX to everyone – particularly those customers who are blind or partially sighted.
By 2050, the UK is expected to have almost four million people living with sight loss – a big increase from the two million it stands at currently – which means websites lacking in accessibility is not good enough. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the UK spends a huge £31 billion on international tourism every year – and considering the purple pound is worth a massive £212 billion, it’s safe to assume a portion of this is from people with disabilities. Add to this, the fact that The Association of British Travel Agents found that between 2014 and 2016, 89% of holidaymakers booked a holiday online, making it by far the most popular platform for booking a trip. So, why is it that our latest research found that users living with sight-loss struggle to use some of the most popular travel sites?
Our travel report was carried out to uncover how easy some of the top travel websites are to navigate for all users – considering they are the primary channel for most customers when booking their holidays.
The independent research that underpinned the report looked at 10 top travel websites, including Skyscanner, AirBnb, LateRooms, Booking.com, LastMinute, OnTheBeach, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Co-operative Travel, and Expedia. Each of the websites were scored out of a possible 35 points in categories covering usability, how easy the sites are to use across different devices, and accessibility for users including those with physical, cognitive, and visual disabilities. Independent consultant, Molly Watt, who suffers from Usher Syndrome, which affects her hearing and sight, tested the websites for accessibility. On average across all sections, the websites scored a disappointing 23 out of 35 – with their main downfall being accessibility.
If this research tells us anything, it’s that we need a gear-change. Businesses that aren’t doing so already need to take steps to accommodate the fact that an increasing number of their online customers will be living with disabilities.
Where the websites are going wrong with accessibility
A number of the websites were falling at the same hurdles. Six out of the 10 sites were too cluttered – including Booking.com, British Airways, and Airbnb – and almost half of the sites had inconsistent interfaces, making it difficult to easily find your way around the site. On the Beach was one of the travel companies with a website that needed work in order to achieve the accessibility stamp. The website did have the zoom function enabled so that users with partial sight can enlarge text to make it easier to read (unlike some of the others). But, on seven of the other accessibility points it was scored on, such as having accessible forms and a simple layout, the website didn’t do as well, which rendered it near impossible to navigate for Molly.
Throughout the research it was obvious that the majority of these websites had thought about general usability – most being easy to navigate and understand for the average user. However, although accessibility is key to having an inclusive approach to all customers, it just hadn’t been prioritised in the same way.
The impact this is having on customers
Without a doubt, this failure to be inclusive will have a negative impact on a lot of customers. Molly Watt told us that travel sites with bad accessibility have stopped her from making purchases in the past, which says it all. Hampering their abilities to use travel websites is not only bad for these users, but for the businesses, too.
The majority of people using a travel website are likely to be parting with hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. This means that these companies have a responsibility to make sure that every user feels secure and happy with the service they get online.
There are a number of simple changes that can be easily made to these websites to make sure they are better suited to partially sighted users, which will be transferable to all sectors.
Where to go from here…
To be accessible, websites should ensure their colour contrasts are correct, and avoid all-white pages completely. This is particularly important for form pages. With travel websites, for example, the booking process can be tricky to navigate and complete if the colour of the boxes is the same as the rest of the page. This could hamper a user’s ability to complete a transaction, which has an impact on conversions for the business.
Enabling the ‘zoom’ function, so that people with sight loss can enlarge text on different devices without needing assistive technology, is also a good move. Too many websites have disabled this function as they think having a responsive website, whereby the site resizes depending on the device it’s opened on, is good enough – but you don’t know a user’s intention with your website, so you’re best leaving this enabled.
Other elements to consider are simplifying and decluttering layouts, and building in skip links so that screen readers – technology that allows blind or visually impaired people to read text via a speech synthesiser or braille display – can bypass or ‘skip’ over repetitive web page content, making it easier for those using this technology to digest content.
For a lot of businesses, catering for differing abilities on their website can feel like a minefield. But making these key changes can be of huge benefit to those with partial sight, and in turn could be beneficial to businesses – and in more ways than one. Ignoring accessibility could be isolating millions of users, which is damaging for a company’s reputation, won’t encourage customer loyalty, and in turn will have a negative impact on profits.