Customer Relationship Management for the Web-Access Challenged: Inaccessibility of Fortune 250 Business Web Sites

International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 7, Number 2, Fall 2002, pp.81.

Abstract: Companies increasingly employ the World Wide Web to gather information from and disseminate information to actual and potential customers and for end-consumer business transactions and interactions. The challenge of attracting and keeping economically valuable customers while repelling and eliminating those who are not economically valuable is the focus of Electronic Commerce Customer Relationship Management (ECCRM). Many companies consider traditional usability when designing customer-oriented aspects of their Web sites, but they may not consider the critically important aspect of accessibility. On-line barriers may limit or preclude Web accessibility for potential customers with access challenges. ECCRM requires that companies communicate with current and potential customers to establish, develop, and manage relationships. However, this may be difficult or impossible for customers unable to access the company’s Web site for information, let alone to place orders or interact with company representatives. Web site accessibility is an important aspect of usability for ECCRM that is being overlooked by most firms.

This article describes the background of Web site accessibility from economic, market-oriented, legal, and usability perspectives. Then it presents the results of an evaluation of the accessibility of the top 250 2002 Fortune 500 company Web site home pages (actually, as will be explained below, only 248 home pages were evaluated). The Bobby accessibility validation program quantified the number and severity of accessibility errors and problems for each site. The majority (182/247, i.e., 75%) of the Fortune 250 Company Web sites have Priority 1 accessibility errors, and many of these problems are so severe that the firms should give a high priority to correcting them. The study illustrates the need for companies to go beyond traditional usability testing to examine the accessibility of their Web sites so that they can successfully employ ECCRM and comply with ADA and other legal guidelines and requirements. The economic aspects of ECCRM should be enough to encourage firms to make their sites accessible to all current and potential customers. Suggestions for improving the accessibility of Web sites are provided as well as future research directions.

Key Words and Phrases: Access challenges, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Center for Assistive Technologies (CAST), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Fortune 250, Web site accessibility.