They lost my business after 15 years – why website accessibility is important

Why I recently switched from Tesco to Ocado for my grocery shopping.

Sometimes my international customers are surprised that I do my grocery shopping online. It’s not as popular in Germany as it is here.

I’ve been doing all my grocery shopping online for years now – since shortly after I moved to London. So that’s at least 15 years. It made me so happy, because previous trips to the supermarket had been a challenge.

In theory you can ask for assistance if you are blind and can’t locate the products yourself. In practice, you are sometimes given any member of staff who can be spared, and that doesn’t always work out well. I had one really helpful lady, but the next week I got a young guy who thought that you find cheese in the freezer section, and when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the next week I got someone who couldn’t read. This was appalling – both because I ended up without most of the things that I wanted, but as an employer, the supermarket set that guy up to fail, giving him a task to do that he had no fair chance of completing. He felt bad because he wanted to help, but couldn’t. I felt bad because I couldn’t point out the things that I wanted. It was a disaster.

So, I tried online shopping and it was amazing. At first Tesco had a separate access site for screenreader users, and this was later removed, but the main site was perfectly accessible. I used it for years. Around 15 years. But then things started to go downhill.

I found the site was getting slower, and a recent revamp meant that it became considerably less accessible. I’m not sure how the appearance of the site changed, although in an IT group for access technology users, one member said his sighted wife didn’t like the new site much either.

The thing that a lot of people don’t understand with accessibility is that it’s not how the page looks, but the way it’s been designed, and whether a good user experience for access technology users has been built into the page at the design and coding stage.

For example, using style headings for product names means that a screenreader user can quickly jump from one product to the next by pressing just one button, without having to read all the associated information if they don’t want to buy that product. A screenreader user can’t skim read and scroll, so having a good navigation structure on web pages is essential if you want screenreader users to be able to move around efficiently.

Anyway – the headings for product names were done away with and the information was presented in a list, which was harder to navigate quickly. In addition to the slowness, sometimes the site crashed completely or threw up script errors. I tried different browsers, because sometimes this helps. But no. I just got more and more frustrated. Shopping took longer! My patience was at an end and I began to put off a job that I’d been doing easily for years.

I did pass on my comments, but never heard anything back.

One day was particularly frustrating and I ended up asking S to help me just to get the job done. But something had to change!

Some of our friends had been talking about how happy they were with Ocado, so I decided to give it a go. I signed up for an account and hoped that the experience would be better.

The first task was to import my favourites from Tesco. I believe a 3rd party site is used for this. It wasn’t great, because the buttons for the various supermarkets weren’t labelled properly, but I knew it couldn’t import anything without me logging in to the other site, so I clicked the first one and hoped for the best. It was Tesco! The cynical part of me wonders whether this is where most of Ocado’s customers import their favourites from! Who knows? This shows the importance of labelling your graphics – there are some people who can’t see the graphics and need to know what will happen when you click that button.

Anyway – the favourites will only be imported if there is a comparable product in the Ocado database, so I inevitably lost some. However, it wasn’t difficult to search for things that were missing, and I ended up getting a bit carried away with new things that I wanted to try as well!

It was easy to navigate around the pages, and Ocado does style their product names as headings, so I can quickly move through pages such as my favourites or a page of search results to find what I’m looking for.

Booking my slot and paying for the goods was easy as well, and when the shopping arrived, everything was as it should be.

I was also happy with the receipt. Tesco only provides an email confirmation of the order, but this doesn’t give any information about what actually arrived (for example if something was out of stock). The Ocado receipt tells you what was delivered, and also gives you information about when the products should be used up. This is particularly useful if you can’t see the packaging to check. To be honest I’ve never given myself food poisoning with out-of-date food, and now S is around to check, but in the past I’ve often frozen things to be on the safe side. With this information on the receipt, I don’t need to.

In terms of Unseen Beauty, I have been impressed at the extensive skincare and beauty section, so there will be some new reviews coming soon.

At the moment I am enjoying free access to the smart pass, which gives you free deliveries as long as you hit the £40 minimum spend. I will probably renew this when the free trial runs out because we will save in the long-term on delivery charges.

I couldn’t imagine doing my grocery shopping any other way now – as someone who is blind, there are so many advantages. I can read about the products. I can choose exactly what I want. I can browse for new things when I feel in need of some inspiration. I don’t have to wait for a taxi to get myself and all my shopping home. I don’t have to ask for help in-store. I can do the shopping any time that suits me, even if that’s the middle of the night. If there are cooking instructions for something, they can usually be found on the website.

In addition to all these advantages, it’s still important to have a website that works, that’s efficient, that provides a good user experience, and that doesn’t drive me crazy every time I want to do our weekly shop! Ocado ticks all of these boxes and I wish I had made the switch sooner.

Much is said in marketing about loyal customers, but even someone who has been using a company for 15 years will leave if they feel that the quality of service is not what it once was, or that there is a better deal elsewhere.

In addition to the plus points I have already listed about Ocado, there are other benefits such as the price match. If your shopping is found to be cheaper at Tesco, as mine was last week, you get a voucher for the difference. You can then redeem this voucher when you do your next shop. You also get 5p back for every carrier bag that you return, and there is a good range of products for people with dietary requirements, such as gluten or dairy free diets. When you’re checking out, you have the option of healthier choices for things that are in your basket. Ok you may want an unhealthy treat, but if you’re looking for a healthier diet, it’s nice to have the suggestions.

If you would like me to send you an invitation to Ocado, just fill out your details using the form below. You will receive a £20 voucher for your first shop, and a free smart pass, which gives you free deliveries for one year (minimum spend applies).

If you request an invitation, your email address will be entered on the Ocado site to generate an invitation. It will not be stored by English with Kirsty. If you request the news updates, your email address will be added to my mailing list so that you can receiveUnseen Beauty news, usually twice a week.
I will receive a reward if anyone signs up through me, but I only promote things that I believe are good value and am using myself.

The Co-Op puts Braille on some of its products to make them accessible to blind customers

“It says chocolate cake!”

It was only when I was tidying up the kitchen and moving empty cake boxes that I noticed it! The Braille on the bottom of a chocolate cake from the co-op.

Braille is a system of patterns of dots that blind people use in order to read. Some blind people label things in Braille, I have sticky labels on my spice rack, but it’s still quite uncommon to find products that have been labelled in Braille by the manufacturer.

Legally, tablets and medicines have to be labelled in Braille (let’s see if we’re as fortunate when the UK leaves the EU). This is nothing new, although I did have to point out to the vet that sticking their own labels over the Braille ones kind of defeated the object of having it in the first place.

Anyway, as long as I keep things in their original cardboard boxes, it’s easy enough to identify what tablets are. But chocolate cake? That was something new.

Of course the discovery meant that we had to buy more chocolate cake in order to get a photo for this blog. See the hardship I went to for you, my readers?!

I contacted the Co-op to find out a bit more about why they had decided to label some of their products in Braille. This is the response I received back from Ian Ferguson, Manager on the Food Policy Team:

“We are the only retailer to carry braille on food and non-food products as we understand how important braille is to help for our visually impaired customers to lead independent lives, and we take very seriously our commitment to our customers to provide excellent products and customer service.”

“The Co-operative Food provides braille on all of its own-brand food and non-food product packaging, where it is technically feasible.

We first introduced braille onto our own-brand medicines in 2001, and then onto all products, where technically possible, from 2002.

Unique braille files and metal printing blocks are created for each of the many thousands of individual products, and are checked before being printed on pack.

For cardboard we would use a unique set of metal printing blocks, for self-adhesive labels we would use silk-screen printing.”

I have to be honest and say that I don’t usually shop at the Co-op. I used to live near one, and it was really handy to have it so close by if I forgot something. But I would like to support what they’re doing, and also to make other blind shoppers aware of it. After all, I only discovered the Braille by accident as I was tidying up.

As I mentioned in my article about Braille products from L’Occitane, having Braille labels on products wouldn’t necessarily help me in the store (I’m not going to pick up every box on the shelf to see whether it’s what I’m looking for), but once in the home, it’s nice not to have to remember what things are or label them myself. Also, if you know that the label is on the bottom of the box, for boxes with no plastic insert, it’s also a good way to know which way up they should go!

The statement doesn’t give further examples of Braille products. I’ve seen it on cakes and pizza bases, but I’d be interested to know what else you’ve come across with Braille on it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found Braille on other Co-op products too!

So well done to the Co-op!

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