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Mercari and Pixie Dust Technologies Begin Collaborative Research on Inclusive Design in Internet Shopping

January 07, 2021

Survey on Accessibility for Visually-Impaired People Using E-Commerce in Japan

Mercari R4D (“R4D”), the research and development arm of Mercari, Inc. (“Mercari”), and Pixie Dust Technologies, Inc. (“PXDT”), a company using technologies developed in academic circles to solve real social issues, have begun research and development of inclusive design*1 for e-commerce products to enable anyone to use these services, even with differing levels of disability.

As part of this collaborative research, R4D and PXDT conducted a web-based survey regarding use of online shopping, targeting visually-impaired users in Japan and their caregivers. In this way, the companies hope to better define the challenges facing users with visual disabilities.


In the ever-changing digital world of today, our access to information is limited by factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic standing. Many efforts to address accessibility issues in digital consumer products apply their solutions after the fact, with most applications primarily designed for users of commercially and practically viable age, without concern for disability.

Mercari’s proprietary C2C marketplace app boasts a wide variety of users who have signed up for the service since its founding. In recent years, the number of Mercari users in their 60s or older has also been increasing.*2 Mercari is currently working to define and test the issues which users of advanced age or visual impairment face in their interactions with Mercari’s C2C marketplace (that is, the interplay between these users and the system). Through this, Mercari aims to propose guidelines for e-commerce accessibility, as well as design and develop accessible e-commerce products.

PXDT is part of the xDiversity Project, which works to help people overcome physical difficulties or disabilities and solve the social issues these disabilities entail. PXDT has developed tactile and visual devices to allow people with listening impairments to enjoy music and automated wheelchairs allowing wheelchair users to go where they want, when they want. In this way, they have worked to achieve a sustainable, diverse society through technology. It was this background that led R4D and PXDT to launch this collaborative research project.

*1 Method for developing products which are accessible and can be used by a wide variety of persons, incorporating the diverse needs of people of advanced age and people with disabilities into the product from the design phase.

*2 Mercari Announces Attitude Survey regarding Use of Marketplace Apps by Persons 60 Years of Age or Older (Only available in Japanese)

Survey Overview

Survey Period: July 20, 2020 – September 22, 2020
Survey Method: Web-based survey (text-to-speech)
Target: 133 men and women in Japan aged 15–76

Summary of Survey Results

1) Frequency of online shopping

The results showed that among the target group, nearly 90% of those with no eyesight or weak eyesight shop online “occasionally,” “often,” or “always.” They also showed that only 7% of those with no eyesight and only 4% of those with weak eyesight never shop online. Note that this data only represents those who purchase online, rather than those who sell.

Bar graph of the results on the frequency of online shopping. Top: blind people, bottom: low-vision people.
From left to right, the order is "always," "often," "sometimes," "seldom," and "never. From the results, it can be seen that the total of "sometimes," "often," and "always" is nearly 90% for both blind and low vision users. On the other hand, only 7% of the blind and 4% of the low vision respondents do not use the system at all.

2) What they purchase online

Both those with no eyesight and those with weak eyesight purchase food and drinks online the most (77% of those with no eyesight and 70% of those with weak eyesight). The next most common categories were electronic devices (63%, 50%) and appliances (66%, 52%). On the other hand, few purchased clothes (30%, 41%), interior items (24%, 37%), or accessories (10%, 13%).

Graph of items purchased through online shopping.
On the left is the percentage of blind respondents and on the right is the percentage of low-vision respondents. The colored areas indicate the percentage of respondents who purchased the item, and the gray areas indicate the percentage of respondents who did not purchase the item. The highest purchase rate was for "food and beverages," with 75% to 80% of both blind and low vision respondents purchasing these items. Electronic devices and home appliances also have a high purchase rate, with more than half of both blind and low vision respondents purchasing them. On the other hand, clothing, shoes, bags, interior design, and accessories, shown in the upper part of the graph, are purchased by a particularly low percentage of blind people. The survey also includes results for cosmetics, office supplies, books, CDs, DVDs, toys, sporting goods, and tickets. In general, the percentage of purchases is low, except for CDs and DVDs, which are purchased by more than 50% of blind people.

3) Devices used and difficulties encountered when shopping online

Both those with no eyesight and those with weak eyesight said that they use their PC for shopping online (no eyesight: “always” = 29%, “often” = 32%; weak eyesight: “always” = 24%; “often” = 22%).

When it comes to tablet computers, 7% of those with no eyesight said they “always” use a tablet browser, while 6% said they “often” use one. Meanwhile, 6% said they “always” use a table app, and 6% said they “often” do. Among those with weak eyesight, 15% “always” use a tablet browser and 11% “often” use one. Similarly, 9% “always” use a tablet app, and 14% “often” use one. These results seem to indicate that fewer people with no eyesight use a tablet than people with weak eyesight.

Additionally, with regards to smartphone usage, 14% of those with no eyesight said they use a smart phone browser “always” and 16% said “often.” Meanwhile, 20% said they “always” use smartphone apps and 25% said they “often” do. Responses from those with weak eyesight totaled 9%, 22%, 9%, and 18%, respectively.

Although smart speakers have found some use among these groups, they are not ubiquitous, with 78% of those with no eyesight and 83% of those with weak eyesight saying they never use a smart speaker.

The next responses once again revealed that both those with no eyesight and those with weak eyesight experienced the greatest difficulty in understanding “explanation of individual images” (total of “always” and “often” responses: no eyesight = 77%; weak eyesight = 65%), “item quality” (76%, 76%), “clothing size and shape” (83%, 72%), and “design and pattern” (60%, 70%). Conversely, difficulties with “purchasing method” (20%, 24%) were comparatively few, showing us that the issue is not device operation, but rather obtaining item information provided by the selling site.

This graph shows the results of the devices used for online shopping and the difficulties encountered when using them.In addition to the frequency of use of PCs, tablets, etc., the graph shows the results of a survey on whether or not it is difficult to see images of products, the size and shape of clothes, etc. The results are shown in percentage. On the left are blind people, and on the right are low-vision people, in the order of "always," "often," "sometimes," "seldom," and "never," from inside to outside. For example, in the item "Difficulty in understanding the design and pattern of clothes," more than 50% of the blind respondents answered "always," and the total of "always" and "often" exceeded 90%. On the other hand, the percentage of blind people who answered "Always" and "Often" together was about 20% for the item "Difficult to understand how to purchase.

4) Selling items

This survey asked questions about the selling side as well, including both online marketplaces and auction sites. Only 25% of those with no eyesight and 42% of those with weak eyesight sell items online.

Those that do sell were asked about how they sell items. Most of those without eyesight said they sell to “second-hand shops and other brick-and-mortar stores” (48%, or 12% of all respondents). Second to this was selling on smartphone (38%, 9%) and PC (33%, 8%). Most of those with weak eyesight sell their items via smartphone (50%, or 21% of all respondents), followed by PC (40%, 17%), tablet (30%, 13%), and finally, “second-hand shops and other brick-and-mortar stores” (25%, 10%).

Although fewer of those with no eyesight sell or list their items than those with weak eyesight, the percentage of both no-eyesight and weak-eyesight respondents who use “brick-and-mortar stores” is about the same—only around 10% of the total, including respondents who don’t sell. While this data demonstrates that those with no eyesight can use brick-and-mortar stores where they can sell face-to-face, directly to the store, it also shows that they are careful about selling or listing using IT devices due to difficulties or worries associated with those methods.

Among those that do not sell, a whopping 80% or so responded that they did not sell because “procedures and operation are difficult or bothersome.” Conversely, “I have nothing to sell” (34%, 39%) and “I don’t have any desire to make money that way” (17%, 7%) responses were extremely few, indicating that both those with no eyesight and those with weak eyesight would want to sell or list their items if selling/listing procedures and operation were easier.

This graph shows the results of a survey conducted from the standpoint of selling, including flea markets and auctions. The vertical graphs at both ends of the left and right sides show the percentage of blind and low vision people selling goods, with 25% of blind people and 40% of low vision people selling goods. Next, the upper inner graph shows the means by which the groups selling goods are doing so. For the blind, the most common method is physical stores such as recycle stores, followed by smart phones and computers. In contrast, for those with low vision, smartphones are the most common method, followed by PCs and tablets, with physical stores coming in a close second. Finally, the graph below on the inside shows the reasons why the groups that do not sell goods do not sell them. For both blind and low vision users, the percentage of respondents who answered "Procedures and operations are difficult or troublesome" was around 80%, while "I have nothing in particular to sell" was less than 40% and "I don't dare to earn income" was less than 20%.

Mercari and PXDT want to create a world where anyone—of any age, culture, or physical condition—can enjoy using their technology and services. Going forward, these companies will focus on issues like accessibility and universal design in researching meaningful and exciting systems which users of any capability can use, in order to raise, inspire, and create new value for their digital products.

They will continue to conduct surveys and R&D based on the results of this survey, to propose e-commerce accessibility guidelines and help design and develop more accessible e-commerce products.

The details of this survey have also been presented under the title of “Status of and Trends in Accessibility for Visually-Impaired Users of E-commerce Services” at the Information Processing Society of Japan’s 14th Accessible & Assistive Computing Conference.

*3 “Status of and Trends in Accessibility for Visually-Impaired Users of E-commerce Services,” Information Processing Society of Japan’s Research Journal, Vol.2020-AAC-14, No.3, pp.1-8 (2020). (Only available in Japanese)

About Mercari R4D

Mercari R4D was established in December 2017 as a research and development organization aiming to implement its findings into society. R4D stands for Research and 4 D’s: Design, Development, Deployment, and Disruption. R4D aims to create future innovation for the Mercari Group’s services and businesses centered on the core concept of changing value exchange through technology. It conducts research and development focusing on technologies such as AI, blockchain, HCI (human-computer interaction), quantum computing, and mobility.

Website: https://r4d.mercari.com
For any inquiries regarding this research, please contact us through R4D’s website.

mercari R4D