Skin Deep: How DTC Beauty and Wellness Brands Can Live up to the Promise of ADA Compliance

flat lay of natural looking beauty products

Beauty and wellness startups may offer a dose of purpose along with their products but for that purpose to feel authentic, it must be accessible to all

By Eliza Goldsbro, Digital Strategy & Project Management, SMAKK

Now that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has become a part of the broader conversation around diversity, accessibility has become a concern for all industries building digital experiences. But none more so than the beauty and wellness industry. A lot of other sectors, like education, energy or finance, have regulations that tend to make them more tapped into all things compliance. Meanwhile, smaller beauty and wellness brands tend to lack the awareness and resources to prioritize this – with potentially catastrophic effects.

Since DTC brands rely so heavily on their online presence – generally e-commerce is the only opportunity for your customers to interact with their brands and purchase your products – this obviously means if that space is not accessible for all of your customers, you’re reducing opportunity for potential revenue. However, more than that, you risk doing lasting brand damage while also fostering an online culture of inequality around access to beauty and wellness products. The ethical implications of creating an online space for your brand and the conversations and community-building experiences your brand is driving and making those inaccessible to disabled people is extremely problematic. If beauty and wellness brands truly value diversity, their ecommerce experience should reflect that.

Despite this, the beauty and wellness space is still filled with sites featuring  basic ADA missteps — content that automatically plays, moves or scrolls with no mechanism to pause, stop or hide it, incorrect use of alt text for functional and informative images, poor accounting for how a screen reader navigates a page and more. For DTC beauty and wellness brands that truly want to embody your messaging, you must fully deliver on your purpose-led visions, designing and developing with accessibility in mind.

Why Accessibility Matters

Every company has a responsibility to make an effort in making their website ADA compliant. But if your brand leverages value propositions such as being purpose/mission driven, environmentally conscious, inclusive and diverse — as most modern beauty and wellness brands do — then there is an added responsibility. Particularly for brands that need meaningful ways to connect to famously socially conscious Gen Z audiences, diversity and inclusion have become major topics that you need to be involved in. In this environment, making an effort to create an accessible website takes on more relevance.

Of course, there are other important reasons to take accessibility seriously. For example, brands are increasingly finding themselves in lawsuits after being completely unaware they need to ensure their website meets minimum ADA requirements. If you have made no effort to implement accessibility measures on your site, you’re a sitting duck and putting your brand at unnecessary risk.

Providing Purpose for All

The good news is that the general increase in accessibility awareness has also led to the increase in resources to ensure your website is accessible, which has helped to meaningfully improve the compliance process. Here’s some simple steps that can help DTC beauty and wellness brands catch up on accessibility:

Use ADA compliant tools: With e-commerce as the foundation of a strong DTC brand, taking accessibility into account (in addition to other UX strategies) might seem like a tall order. But ensuring the UX of transactions is accessible can be more straightforward than you would think, so long as you use the right tools. Shopify, for example, has some very basic accessibility measures built into their themes, checkout and available functionality, which can help a lot as compared to custom e-commerce solutions.

Partner for success: The process of being ADA compliant can be actually quite vague and because websites can range so much in their design, functionality and the level of accessibility, it’s difficult to ensure you meet every standard. That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to partner with experts that specialize in ADA compliance, building sites for accessibility – from wireframes and designs all the way through development – and can provide accessibility audits. At minimum, carefully vet your existing collaborators to make sure they have the necessary skills so that nothing slips through the cracks.

Avoid style over substance: Beauty and wellness brands are no stranger to the idea that a great look can lead to brand growth but that doesn’t mean embracing style over substance. Of course, creating an ADA compliant site doesn’t mean that the design must be lackluster. It just underscores that it’s always best to make the path to purchase as straightforward and familiar as possible for consumers. The transaction flow isn’t the place to be doing anything too crazy design-wise to drive engagement.

More Than Face Value

Fostering accessibility across the range of beauty and wellness brand experiences on the internet is a huge responsibility and will take collaboration between agencies and brands to ensure websites have met as many accessibility standards as possible. It’s not that all brands should have in-depth knowledge on how to do this, rather that we all have a responsibility to at least work with the right tools and people, giving customers the access they need to participate in the worlds of beauty and wellness.