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Online stores must be accessible by 2025 – Here’s what you need to know

Online stores must be accessible by 2025 – Here’s what you need to know

The European Accessibility Act, as implemented by Germany’s Accessibility Reinforcement Act (BFSG), requires online merchants to ensure that their websites are accessible by mid-2025. And this is a good idea for more than just legal reasons. Read on to find out what online merchants need to know and what the benefits are, plus how Shopware itself is becoming more accessible and how it supports online merchants in this area. 

This post will cover the following: 

Legal principles: The European Accessibility Act (EAA) and its implementation in the EU Member States 

The European Accessibility Act, a piece of legislation similar to the American Disabilities Act (ADA), was passed in 2019. The main goal behind it was to make the EU more inclusive. More specifically, the EAA sets out accessibility requirements for goods and services. As with all EU directives, the Member States have several years to transpose the requirements into their national laws.

In Germany, this was done with the Accessibility Reinforcement Act (BFSG). The BFSG was passed by the German parliament in 2021 and already requires public authorities to make their websites, documents, and mobile applications accessible. From the middle of next year, the requirements will also apply to private economic operators for the first time. 

What does the Accessibility Act mean for merchants and online store operators?  

The law requires product manufacturers and service providers to design their offers in such a way that they can also be used by people with disabilities easily and without help from others. 

These products and services include: 

  • Computers, operating systems, and smartphones 

  • Television sets for digital television services 

  • Bank services and ATMs 

  • E-books 

  • Electronic commerce 

The last point clearly refers to ecommerce. This could be relevant to you if... 

  1. You manufacture products yourself, as these may need to adhere to the new law. 

  2. You operate an online store, as this should also be accessible to people with disabilities. 

There are exceptions, however. For example, for the very smallest businesses and for B2B stores that are clearly set up as such. It might be worth looking into this more closely.

If you operate an online shop that also or only serves consumers, you can assume that you’ll be affected by this law. This means you’ll need to adapt your website to the new requirements. The next section explains why this is a good idea even without the legal stipulations.

Why is accessibility in online stores so important and what are the benefits for online merchants?  

We don’t all use websites the same way. People with impairments of various kinds may use voice recognition, keyboard control, screen readers, Braille displays, or joysticks. 

elizabeth-woolner-9xxNZCJZ8bA-unsplash braille display digital accessibility

People with visual impairments can use a Braille display to read website texts. 

It’s clear that the big advantage of accessible ecommerce is that it makes our society more inclusive. It helps us ensure that people with visual, hearing, physical or cognitive impairments have access to information and online products. 

But what’s the current state of accessibility on the internet? 

Many websites are not yet accessible 

25% of online stores in Germany are not accessible. This was the conclusion of an investigation by Aktion Mensch in cooperation with Google last year. They tested Germany’s top five hundred websites against eight criteria from the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

The results of a global investigation in 2020 were even more drastic. At that time, the Majestic Million list of the world’s most frequently linked-to websites was analyzed for accessibility for people with disabilities. The findings showed that around 98% of the sites inspected had shortcomings. 

Accessibility on the internet is almost non-existent

People with disabilities are especially relevant online shoppers and a growing segment 

With so many websites not fully accessible, a large proportion of the population is affected. In 2021, Destatis reported that 7.8 million people in Germany have a visual impairment. That’s around one in ten people. According to the test report by Aktion Mensch and Google, this group of people actually uses the internet more than average. This makes them a particularly relevant group of online customers. The report found that 61% of people with disabilities shop online frequently or very frequently, compared to 51% of people without disabilities. And let’s not forget that our society is aging. Which means that the number of people with disabilities will continue to increase. 

An accessible online store includes the following groups:

- People with disabilities - People with temporary disabilities - Older people

So, including this group of customers is not just about being equitable. It can also be an economic factor. And having an accessible online store has even more advantages. 

An accessible website is also good for usability, SEO, and your online presence 

If you comply with the new accessibility standards, your website will be more user-friendly overall – not just for people with disabilities. Two examples: First, a high degree of visual contrast ensures that your websites are always easy to read, even when people look at them on their smartphones in the sun. Second, things like well-structured navigation and easily accessible information increase the dwell time on the page. This ensures a higher level of customer satisfaction overall and increases the chances of your online store being recommended to others.  

In addition, designing your website to be accessible will have positive effects in terms of SEO. For one thing, because usability and a long dwell time are positive signals for Google and other search engines. But also, because optimized accessibility of your content (for example alt texts for images or transcriptions of audio content) provides more context for search engines. 

You can see that making your online store accessible brings a range of benefits. In the next section, we’ll look at how Shopware as an ecommerce platform supports you with your accessibility. 

What is Shopware planning for more accessibility? 

Shopware has set itself the goal of being completely ready before the deadline set by the Accessibility Act. This will allow our merchants to make the necessary adjustments without any pressure. 

We don’t yet meet all the requirements of WCAG 2.1 AA, but we’re determined to close the gaps as quickly as possible. We plan to be completely compliant with these stipulations by the end of the year at the latest. This includes training for our staff and extensive software testing that we aim to perform ahead of time with people with disabilities. 

Shopware users can expect a product update that includes adaptions explicitly aimed at reinforcing accessibility. The new enhancements will make Shopware more accessible and help online merchants make the necessary adjustments in their online stores.

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed about upcoming product updates. 

“It’s very important to us to offer an integrative and accessible shopping experience. That’s why Shopware is committing unreservedly to promoting a digital environment that is inviting and accessible to everyone. As accessibility is an ongoing task, we are firmly anchoring this continuous process in our product development. Our goal is to give our merchants a way to reach a wider public and offer outstanding shopping experiences.”

 – Stefan Hamann, Co-CEO and co-founder of Shopware  

The next section contains additional useful information to help you start thinking about accessibility in your online store right away. 

First steps to an accessible online presence: Tips and additional information 

Accessibility and all the legal stipulations involved might seem overwhelming at first glance. You might find yourself wondering where to even begin. But as you find out more about it, you’ll get a clearer idea of the steps you need to take. And the sooner you start, the more relaxed you’ll be when the statutory deadline of June 28, 2025, draws near.

We’ve broken it down into these 5 steps to make it easier:   

  1. Learn more about accessibility and the upcoming requirements. You’ll find some useful reading material below. 

  2. Analyze your online presence. Where are you already doing well and where is there room for improvement in digital accessibility? 

  3. Group similar issues together and assign people to be responsible for them. 

  4. Plan to update your Shopware version as soon as we’ve included the new enhancements regarding digital accessibility. 

  5. Adjust your online presence step by step so that it meets the new standards. 

 Recommended reading on accessibility in online shops: 

Event tip:

Don’t miss our Digital Accessibility slot at Shopware Community Day 2024 in May, where we’ll be sharing more information about this topic and related solutions. 

shopware community day accessibility speaker slot EN

We wish you every success as you optimize your online store. We are proud to be taking steps together to make the web more inclusive and accessible for all.

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