EU Customers and Cookies

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If you are an ecommerce website owner with operations in Europe, you have probably already heard of the new EU regulations regarding cookies. If not, you should take the time to educate yourself immediately. The new laws state that websites such as yours will have to obtain explicit consent before putting a cookie on a user’s computer or mobile device. 

As you can imagine, this will really cramp the style of many ecommerce websites. After all, cookies are not all bad. They are not just a way to spy on your computer, but a way of offering a personalized experience that is targeted at the particular customers’ unique interests and needs. There are a few exceptions to the rule; cookies that are necessary to perform tasks that the customer has initiated, such as checkout, are not specifically disallowed.

The problem is not that it will be difficult to get customers to allow you to personalize their shopping experience with cookies; most people are more than happy to do so, being less suspicious than the EU when it comes to ecommerce. The problem is that you will need to spend time getting permission, interrupting the flow of the shopping experience.

In addition to making compelling calls to action for your sales, you will need to include a call to action for customers to simply allow you to use cookies, which is—shall we say it—a pain in the backside.

So, how do you go about encouraging an EU customer to accept cookies? Here is a plan that we hope will work:

  • Explain what cookies are in as ‘safe’ of language as possible. 
  • Emphasize that you do not use them to personally track a customer, but that they are a way of improving the shopping experience and also the way the website runs.
  • Name the features of accepting cookies, namely that some parts of your ecommerce website will run better with them than without. Be clear that some site features will not work unless the customer accepts cookies.
  • Tell customers that cookies are easily deleted and that many are erased automatically as soon as the customer leaves your website.
  • Make sure that your words are chosen to alleviate anxiety and create trust, making the customer feel that they understand the concept of cookies and want them on their website.
  • Link to a privacy policy so that interested parties can see exactly where you stand on the issue as a whole.
  • Use bullets or otherwise create an easy-to-read list that breaks the information into usable chunks.
  • Use testing to see which versions and exact wording choices appeal most to your exact customer base.

The problems with this new regulation are clear. The cookies opt-in interrupts the flow of shopping and also takes up prime real estate on the front page of your ecommerce website. Most customers will opt in, but they have to take the time to do so. The good news is that there is usually a one year grace period on new EU cyber regulations, which means that you have a long time to decide how to make this work for your ecommerce website.

Above discussed the new EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which will change the way that many e-commerce websites do business. The main change for you is that you will need to disclose the way that you use most types of cookies and get permission (cookie permission) from your visitors before placing them. 

However, this brings up one important issue: how do you encourage website visitors to opt into cookies? This is an issue that we discussed briefly in our last post on the subject, but it really deserves some in-depth analysis of its own. If you have visitors or customers that are based in Europe, this will be one of the most important issues facing you in the future. Here are a few more tips for increasing your chances of getting that Yes.

  • Make the opt-in as unobtrusive as possible. You don’t want to clutter up your landing pages with opt-ins; they are likely to get lost in the fray, anyway. The best way of approaching this is probably to have a pop-up or lightbox window asking for permission before the user can continue. One bit of warning: this creates an extra step in the buying process, so you may want to experiment to see what works best with your consumer base. 
  • Explain the issue in everyday language. You will want to touch on the benefits to the customer (such as improved website performance, the ability to store items in their shopping carts, etc.) in a bulleted list. Emphasize that you respect consumer privacy and that the cookies are necessary for the customer’s needs. Keep in mind that EU customers to ecommerce websites will soon be seeing many of these opt-ins, so they will not create too much friction is they are worded carefully.
  • Test. You need to figure out the approach that works the best before the regulations take effect. This means that you need to begin testing now. AB testing is probably the easiest way for you to determine what approaches will be most effective for your market, although you will probably have to test several models before you find the precisely perfect approach. Unfortunately, this new law will present yet another challenge for the small eCommerce website owner trying desperately to make it.
  • Separate variables. If you decide that AB testing is right for your ecommerce website, you will want to test a variety of variables. Look not just at copy, but at presentation (lightbox, etc.), the call to action and other variables.
  • Modify. As more and more ecommerce websites become compliant with this law, customers are going to change the way that they view this law and thus the way that they interact with different opt-in styles. You will need to be modifying your own approach as well. A good way of watching the changes is by keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing. If your approach is very different from those of most websites similar to yours, you may want to reconsider.