Shopping without sight – my online shopping experience at the Chocolate Emporium

This is the first article in a new series that I’ve started on the blog.

I love shopping! In many ways, online shopping is really practical when you are blind. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy going round the shops with my friends, but if I want something without the assistance of friends or people working in the shops, online shopping is ideal. Even more so seeing as I work from home and can take in the deliveries.

There’s only one problem though – not all shops design their websites in a way that makes it easy for blind people to use them. Some common problems are:
1. Links, pop-up login boxes, or page elements such as date pickers that can only be activated using a mouse – which is a problem if you don’t use a mouse.
2. Unlabelled graphics – I’m not talking about not having nice labels for your images, although these are useful. No I mean when all the buttons are labelled as “button” because the designer thought everyone would get the idea from the graphic on the button. That’s a problem when you can’t see the graphic.
3. Inadequate descriptions of products so it’s hard to know what you’re buying if you can’t see the picture.

The last one is less about web design, but it doesn’t make me want to come back to a site! Points 1 and 2 are the worst, which is why I do a lot of my shopping on Amazon, because I don’t usually have these problems on the website or iPhone app.

Still, I wanted to talk about my experience of using other shops and in my “Shopping without site” series I’m going to set myself the challenge of buying something from different online shops.

It’s not going to be an in-depth analysis report as I would do if I were working with a brand, although if you are interested in a consultation on your site’s accessibility, you can find further details of this service on my contact information page.

No, this is an account of how easy the process was to select products, pay for them and get them delivered to me at home. Some sites are amazing. Others are terrible and I’ll never visit them again. Most are somewhere in the middle, with a lot of good points and one or two things that can be improved. I’m going to try and keep away from web design jargon that most people won’t understand – these articles are about the experience, what went well, and whether I encountered any problems. Mission fail is when I have to ask S to come and complete some part of the order because I couldn’t do it myself with the software that I use to read my laptop’s screen.

I thought I’d start with some chocolate from the Chocolate Emporium.

1. How easy was it to find things on the site?

Very easy. The keyword search facility worked well, and if you click on the chocolate shop, you can jump through the headings to see what chocolate selections they have, a bit like shelves in a shop.

2. How well were products described?

Very well. There are one or two paragraphs about each product when you click on to the product page.

3. How easy was it to put things in the basket?

This is where I had my first problem. On my first visit to this site, I ended up stacking my basket full of chocolates, going to pay for it, and then finding to my dismay that the basket was empty.
On most sites, you click “add to basket” and the item goes straight into your basket. On this site, a pop-up message appears about whether you want to add a free gift message or continue without adding one. This is immediately obvious to a sighted person, but in terms of the order in which my software reads things, the information from the pop-up message comes further down the page, past the information about the product I want to add and the recommendations for what else I might want. I totally missed it, and if you click off the page without setting your gift message preference, the item does not make its way into your basket.
The same happens if there is a question about what colour gift box you want. Because of this, use of such pop-up messages makes it harder for a screenreader user to use the site.

Now I know that it’s there, I know to look for it and make my choice. So it’s not inaccessible, because I can do it, but it does take points away from the user experience because the first time I used the site, I had to go back and add everything again. I wanted the chocolate, so I had the motivation, but if I had been less bothered about the products, I may have given up on it.

A way to fix this would be to make the gift box colours a second drop down box before you click the “add to basket” button. We already have a dropdown list for the size of box that you want. Perhaps the gift message options could come later when you’re about to check out. If both of these things were done, adding something to the basket would not require this second step that screenreader users are likely to miss.

4. How well were buttons labelled?

I didn’t have any problems with button labels. However the label for the basket is “The Chocolate Emporium – Lindt Lindor UK and USA pick and mix – Ghirardelli, Godiva, Monty Bojangles chocolates to buy online – account basket” and really “basket” would be sufficient!

5. Could every control be activated without a mouse?

Yes.

6. How easy was it to pay for the goods?

Once I’d got to my basket and clicked the checkout link, there was another of those messages further down the page. This time it was asking whether I wanted to add an additional chocolate bar. You can’t get to the next page unless you answer the question. There is a check-out button, which doesn’t appear to do anything – you have to click the no thanks button if you want to move on.

7. Can you complete the whole shopping process without sighted help?

Yes. There are some sites where I really can’t finish the order on my own, but with this site, now that I know how it works and what to look out for, I can do it and get as many chocolates as my heart desires!

8. What do you think of the goods?

I bought 3 things this time – a lemon chocolate bar, a lime chocolate bar and some coffee truffles. I really like the variety of different chocolates on this site. As someone who likes fruit and coffee chocolates, there is a good selection of things that you won’t find in the shops, and this is a good reason for me to come back. Also, Lindt chocolate is amazing!

I think my favourite this time is the lemon bar – it has a lemon cream type centre.

The lime bar is thinner and the lime is actually in the chocolate, rather than a cream centre. I will always be happy about coffee chocolate!

9. Overall how good was the experience for a screenreader user?

I’d say that overall, I could get what I wanted using my screenreader and there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t access because I don’t use a mouse. Questions and tick boxes appearing further down the page for me as a screenreader meant that the site wasn’t particularly intuitive and I could imagine less confident blind internet users getting annoyed with it. It certainly frustrated me initially.

I will continue to use this site now that I know to scroll down and check that I don’t need to answer any questions before going on to my next purchase.

10. How accessible were newsletters or other communications from the brand?

This is often another problem area because companies use newsletter software that doesn’t produce accessible newsletters, but that wasn’t a problem I had with the Chocolate Emporium. Their links and graphics were well labelled, and I could read exactly what was on offer and how to get my newsletter subscriber discount code.

Have you bought anything from this site? If so, what would you recommend?

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This is not a sponsored post. I paid for and ate most of the chocolate myself!

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