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Transforming Retail Accessibility: 5 Ways AI Improves Shopping

The retail industry leads in finding innovative ways to meet the needs of diverse consumers. One of the most notable recent steps has been the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to enhance accessibility for shoppers with disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4  U.S. adults lives with a disability; AI technologies can enhance how retailers operate and pave the way for a more inclusive shopping environment

By harnessing the power of AI, retailers break down barriers and create new avenues for individuals with disabilities to engage in seamless and pleasant shopping experiences, while also revving up market competition. Here are a few ways stores — both physical and online — have used modern tools to improve accessibility.

1. AI-Powered Virtual Assistants and Try-On

One of the most impactful ways AI is revolutionizing retail accessibility is through the development of virtual assistants and virtual try-on features. AI-powered helpers can assist customers, including those with a range of disabilities, such as visual impairments, cognitive challenges or mobility issues, by providing real-time guidance and support in stores while online fittings allow users to choose the right size and style of apparel or furniture without leaving home.

Virtual assistants use natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to understand and respond to customers’ queries, making shopping more intuitive and convenient on-demand. Visually impaired customers can use the assistants to describe product details, provide prices and even guide them through store layouts using audio cues. 

Similarly, individuals with cognitive impairments or mobility challenges can try on apparel and personalized recommendations with virtual fittings. For instance, Walmart launched an AI-powered tool on its app and website called Be Your Own Model. Bringing the “fitting room experience” to online shoppers, customers can choose a model that matches their body type and appearance to test out items before buying. Warby Parker’s virtual try-on feature uses AI to allow customers to test out the look of eyeglasses on their own faces before making a purchase, offering people with visual impairments an alternative way to experience products.

2. Enhanced Personalization and Recommendation Systems

AI-driven recommendation systems have also become staples of modern retail, offering personalized product suggestions based on customer preferences, past purchases and browsing behavior. However, these systems also play a crucial role in enhancing accessibility by presenting relevant products to diverse customers.

Macy’s AI-powered recommendation system on its website gives product suggestions based on customer preferences, helping those with disabilities by presenting relevant and suitable options that align with their needs and preferences. Lush’s website features chatbots that provide personalized product suggestions and advice. The popular cosmetic retailer’s online tool can assist customers with disabilities while exploring its wide range of products.

AI-backed recommendation systems and plug-ins are capable of considering dietary restrictions, allergies, or medical requirements, too, ensuring that customers with specific needs can easily find suitable items.

3. In-Store Navigation and Wayfinding

Navigating large  stores can be a daunting task for individuals with disabilities, especially for those with mobility impairments. AI tools can help address this challenge by enabling advanced in-store navigation and wayfinding solutions.

By integrating AI with location-based technologies like beacons or Wi-Fi positioning systems, retailers such as Target and Home Depot provide real-time navigation assistance to shoppers. Customers can simply input the item or section they want to find into a mobile app, and the AI-powered system will generate step-by-step directions, complete with audio instructions and visual cues. Kroger’s EDGE Shelf technology employs AI to display pricing and product information digitally on store shelves, helping individuals with visual impairments by providing clear and easily readable information.

Shoppers with mobility challenges can also benefit from personalized recommendations that prioritize products located in easily accessible areas of a store or offer information about online alternatives with home delivery or buy online pick up in store options. Additionally, in-store navigation technology not only benefits individuals with disabilities but can aid all customers in efficiently locating their desired products, enhancing the shopping experience for all.

4. Accessible Shopping Apps and Websites

A 2019 study by Nucleus Research found that 70% of websites across several sectors were difficult for visually-impaired users to navigate. Yet retailers continue to lead the way in providing accessibility for shoppers with disabilities, and AI has significantly contributed to making shopping apps and websites more accessible to individuals with such challenges.

Brands are increasingly employing AI-driven tools to ensure that their digital platforms comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which describe these attributes as sites with robust capabilities, perceivable information, operable interfaces and understandable content. These tools can detect and rectify issues quickly, such as a lack of screen reader compatibility, missing alternative text for images and difficult keyboard navigation. Likewise, customer service chatbots can address customer inquiries, process returns and provide 24/7 support. 

Through these features, retailers can proactively address potential barriers, making their online platforms more user-friendly for individuals with visual impairments, motor disabilities or cognitive challenges. This not only promotes inclusivity but also opens up a broader customer base for stores.  The American Institutes for Research estimated that the disposable income of working U.S. adults with disabilities is approximately $490 billion. And as Paul Polman and Rhiannon Parker of the Valuable 500 — a business network advocating for disability inclusion — point out, ensuring accessibility for disabled consumers is not only a “moral imperative” but crucial to a brand’s reputation and success.

5. Voice Commerce and Assistive Technology

Voice commerce, powered by AI-driven assistants — like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant — has transformed the way people interact with retailers, allowing shoppers to search for products, add items to their carts and complete purchases effortlessly. This AI is particularly helpful for individuals with disabilities because it reduces the need for physical interactions and simplifies the shopping process.

Amazon’s Alexa has revolutionized voice commerce in many ways. Customers with disabilities can use it to search for products, place orders and manage their shopping lists. CVS Pharmacy’s app incorporates voice command technology for prescription refills, enabling customers with disabilities to manage their medication orders conveniently using natural language interactions. AI-powered voice assistants can help customers find the best deals and track orders as well.


The integration of AI in the retail industry is ushering in a new era of accessibility and inclusivity for consumers. Through AI-powered virtual assistants, enhanced personalization, in-store navigation, accessible digital platforms, voice commerce and improved customer service, retailers empower individuals with disabilities to shop efficiently and with greater comfort. 

These innovations not only break down physical and digital barriers but also emphasize the importance of creating an environment where everyone can enjoy the benefits of modern retail. As AI continues to evolve, the future of retail accessibility looks brighter than ever, promising greater market competition and improved shopping experiences.