Ecommerce solutions fail their customers

Paul Boag

We have recently discovered that the majority of ecommerce software solutions exclude users who have Javascript disabled. That is like turning away 1 in 20 customers.

At Headscape we recently tendered for a piece of work that required an ecommerce solution.

After looking at the various technologies available we settled on Business Catalyst. It fulfilled almost all of our client’s requirements and because it was owned by Adobe we were confident in its long term health.

Chris Scott our Managing Director was running through his presentation the day before the pitch when quite by accident he discovered something – Business Catalyst did not work with Javascript disabled.

Business Catalyst website

This put us in a very awkward position. It didn’t even occur to us that such a powerful product would fail on such a fundamental level. Approximately 5% of users have Javascript disabled and there was no way you would turn 1 in 20 people away from a bricks and mortar business, so why would you online.

We felt morally obliged to tell our prospective client and unsurprisingly we lost the job.

We decided to contact Business Catalyst to find out their position on the subject. Below is the email we received:

Hi Chris Scott,

I am sorry that you lost the deal with this prospect based on this requirement. To be honest, this has not come up much at all in our travels!


“According to 95%-95% of browsers have javascript enabled. My experience of actual users on actual e-commerce sites is more like 99%.

Experience and research has shown that one page checkout reduces cart abandonment by upwards of 20%.
We think that losing 1% to gain 20% was a reasonable compromise.”

Even Magento, one of the more pervasive shopping cart technologies on the market has JS switched on.

And if you go to Amazon, many of the links/drop-downs do not work if you do not have javascript turned on.

So every site used on Magento, Ubercart, BC, and most other shopping cart solutions; and Amazon and probably 90% of other high profile shopping cart portals, do not meet your clients standards. Possibly they are being too pedantic. Of course, it is their prerogative to hold this viewpoint, and as such they must seek a solution that does look after these 0.5-1% of users.

As for BC, it will always require a browser to have JS turned on to work well, and in fact will only become more heavily weighted in that direction as we enhance the ecommerce solution.

I am sorry that in this instance we could not offer an alternate path/solution.


Erin Murray
The Business Catalyst Team.

Setting aside that their entire response seems to be based on an employee from a competitors forum, there is a fundamental failure in the logic.

The argument put forward by Andy in the forum is that by enhancing their checkout process with Javascript you gain more sales than you lose. However, there is no reason you cannot enhance a site with Javascript and still offer a perfectly acceptable ecommerce experience for those who do not have it enabled. That is the wonder of progressive enhancement. Now, I can forgive a random forum guy for not knowing about progressive enhancement. However, I would expect more from those that develop ecommerce solutions on a daily basis.

And there in lies the problem. It would appear this is a problem that is affecting a huge number of sites built with big name ecommerce solutions. We tested websites built on a number of different technologies and found the majority inaccessible. Just some examples included:

This is amazing when smaller solutions such as Shopify seem to work perfectly well without javascript enabled (based on some admittedly quick tests on my part).

Shopify website

Of course, none of this takes into account the moral or legal issues of excluding users that rely on technologies like screen readers. Personally I think it is reprehensible and I applaud our client for turning down our proposed technology. I only hope they find a better solution that does what they require and meets the needs of disabled users.

Anyway, what do you think? I have picked my words carefully in this post for fear of getting a call from somebodies lawyer! However, it strikes me as shameful that this has become an industry norm. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.

Update: We have been contacted by Business Catalyst

As you will see from the comments below we have been contacted by the head of Business Catalyst. They now seem to be taking a much more reasonable tone, saying that this is a problem they are intending to solve.

However this change is extremely confusing as they appear to have completely reversed their position. In the original email they said “As for BC, it will always require a browser to have JS turned on to work well, and in fact will only become more heavily weighted in that direction as we enhance the ecommerce solution.” Now they are saying “for some time now we have had plans to introduce a non-JS reliant shopping experience which as many of your users here have mentioned, should only use Ajax and JS to enhance the shopping experience.”

Which is true? Only time will tell.