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31 October 2022

The European Accessibility Act – 3 of 5 Insights

Impact of the European Accessibility Act on e-commerce

Evelyne Friedel looks at the advantages the EAA will bring to e-commerce, both for consumers and businesses.

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Evelyne Friedel

Evelyne Friedel

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Directive (EU) 2019/882 on the accessibility requirements for products and services, more usually known as the European Accessibility Act (EAA) aims at eliminating and preventing barriers to the free movement of accessible products and services for a more inclusive society, to the benefit of people with disabilities.

To encompass the products and services that are most important to people with disabilities, the EAA covers computers and operating systems, self-service terminals, access services to audiovisual media services, access services to certain passenger transportation services, consumer banking services, smartphones and tablets, mobile device-based services, e-books, and e-commerce services. 

The EAA defines e-commerce services as: “services provided at a distance, through websites and mobile device-based services by electronic means and at the individual request of a consumer with a view to concluding a consumer contract.

EAA obligations for e-commerce service providers

The EAA provides for specific and additional accessibility requirements for e-commerce services, which must:

  • provide “the information concerning accessibility of the products and services being sold (when this information is provided by the responsible economic operator)”
  • ensure “the accessibility of the functionality for identification, security and payment when delivered as part of a service instead of a product by making it perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”
  • provide “identification methods, electronic signatures, and payment services which are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.”

The EAA thus makes explicit reference to the web accessibility principles set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which must be complied with at all stages of e-commerce service provision.

EAA advantages for e-commerce businesses

Innovation

The EAA aims to harmonise the Member States' accessibility standards by setting common requirements but does not impose technical solutions on achieving accessibility. This approach allows operators to innovate, including by designing e-commerce services to be used by a wider range of consumers. Harmonised accessibility requirements will also allow businesses to better share technologies, research and innovations to the benefit of all.

Reduction of costs

Common rules across the EU will help reduce accessibility costs to businesses. According to the European Commission, the costs caused by the absence of harmonisation were around €20 billion in 2020. The EAA is expected to reduce this figure by 45% - 50%.

Businesses will also benefit from the possibility of achieving economies of scale through the creation of a single set of accessibility requirements applying in all Member States.

The EAA should therefore provide greater incentives for businesses to make their products and services more accessible.

EAA advantages for e-commerce consumers

By facilitating cross-border trade, the EAA will benefit people with disabilities who will have access to a greater number of accessible products and services, not least to those online, which can be particularly important where consumers have mobility issues. This should lead to competitive and lower prices for these consumers.

There are an estimated 87m EU citizens with disabilities.  The EAA has highlighted the issue of accessibility in e-commerce, requiring businesses to recognise that a proportion of consumers were excluded from the online market because websites were not designed with accessibility in mind, and making the overall environment easier by harmonising rules across the EU.

Consumer spending represented more than 50% of European GDP before the pandemic and is expected to increase further in the future. The inclusion of all consumers will therefore be positive for the European economy. 

Late implementation of the EAA

The EAA had to be implemented by Member States into national rules by 28 June 2022. However, on 20 July 2022, the European Commission initiated infringement procedures for non-implementation against several Member States. This might delay the implementation of the EAA which is supposed to apply to e-commerce services from 28 June 2025.

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