eCommerce Hosting News By Eshop Hosts 21.5.2012 No Comments
Is your eCommerce Ready for the EU Cookie Directive?

What does the EU Cookies Directive Mean for eCommerce Site Owners

With less than a week until the twelve month moratorium ends that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) allowed for UK websites to comply with the Cookies Directive (26 May 2012) when all UK based websites will need to gain visitors consent in order to continue using certain types of cookies whilst they browse the website.

Failure to comply with the legislation is likely to land hefty fines for non complying website owners.

After conversations with many of our clients in recent weeks who are mostly ecommerce website owners, it is apparent that there is very little knowledge or even awareness of this new legislation yet alone steps being taken to get their websites to comply with it.

What is the EU Cookies Directive

The EU Cookies Directive came into effect accross Europe May 2011 but here in the UK, the ICO granted an extension of 12 months before the legislation would be enforceable, this extension ends on 26th May 2012. Given the lack of awareness and understanding of the new legislation requirements we thought we would post a few key points that eCommerce website owners should be aware of about the Cookies Directive and what they are required to do.

What Are Cookies?

Nearly all websites use cookies, these are small files which are stored on a website visitors computer each time they visit. The cookies to hold a small amount amount of data that is relevant to the visitors visit to the website such as page viewing history, preferred settings eg language and currency preferences and in the case of eCommerce websites, details of any items the visitor may have placed in their shopping cart with a view to purchase on their next visit.

Are Cookies Bad?

The majority of cookies are harmless and the information they collate is anonymous, their use is often essential and improves the visitors experience on your website, although there are unscrupulous websites and software that uses cookies to harness and use information that you wouldn’t want to share.

How do I know if my website uses Cookies and what they are?

You will need to carry out an audit on your site to establish what cookies it is currently using. It is safe to assume that if your online shop is based on one of the many Shopping cart programs such as Open Cart, Zen Cart, Magento etc then your site will be using cookies. If you have added Google Analytics or similar visitor tracking code then this too sets and uses cookies to track and analyse the visitors navigation of your website, likewise any Google Adsense adverts on your website will be using cookies to display relevant adverts to your visitors.

My Site uses Cookies so what do I need to do?

There doesn’t appear to be any clear guidelines issued by the UK government that set out exactly what website owners are required to do. In short, it seems that once you have established what cookies your website uses you will then need to ascertain which category they fall into. According to this very useful guide by the International Chambers of Commerce, there are 4 categories of Cookies and the report explains how you should deal with each type.

A summary of each of the 4 categories of cookies is as follows:

Category 1 – Essential Cookies: These are classed as Strictly Necessary, the cookies must be required to complete a function related to a service or product provided bn the website that has been explicitly requested by the user. Shopping Cart cookies and cookies to remember information required to access to protected areas on the website fall into this category and the good news is that your users are not required to give your website consent to utilise these cookies.

Category 2 – Performance Related Cookies: Any analytics, advertising or ‘pay per click’ related cookies fall into this category and this is provided that they only store anonymous user data and not to be used for behavioural targeting of adverts. Cookies that fall into this category will need to be declared to the users and consent obtained by placing the appropriate wording in your website Terms and Conditions or Privacy Policy statement which ideally you should have already.

Category 3 – Functionality Related Cookies: These are cookies that store your website user choices on your site, usually to enable the user to have a more personalised experience. The functions of these cookies might include detecting if the user has already agreed to an option so it isn’t shown to them again, maybe customised style settings like remembering the users preferred colours, font size etc. As with the Category 2 Cookies, you can comply with the new regulations by inserting a reference to the cookies used in this category within your existing terms and conditions and/or privacy statement rather than forcing your website visitors to choose to opt in.

Category 4 – Targetting or Advertising Cookies: These cookies are what the new legislation is aimed at. These cookies are used to collect information about visitors web browsing habits and the information is then used to serve up relevant or targeted adverts specific to that user and their recent browsing history, many of us will have experienced these type of adverts whilst trawling the web. If your site uses code that applies these cookies then you will need to clearly display that the cookie is used on your website and specifically get the visitors to ‘opt in’ by giving their consent before browsing any of your website pages where it will be used.

Summary

If you haven’t already, then if you are a UK based online businesses then you need to be addressing the requirements to meed the new Cookies Directive legislation. You may have already seen some examples of how other websites have implemented an ‘opt in’ for their Cookie Use, some are using roll-overs that appear at the top or foot of their web pages with a request for consent form. Some go into details explaining the reasons why thay are asking for the ‘opt in’ and others with just a short line of text with a check box.

Others we have seen are displaying a pop up or lightbox aking for the ‘opt in’ when visitors first arrive on their site which explains the reasoning for it but initial thoughts are that these are a little confusing to browser and possibly a bit worring and potentially a cause for higher bounce rates as visitors will be put-off by the disruption to their website navigation.

If you would like to discuss how the EU Cookies Directive applies to your website the please Contact Us and we would be happy to help.

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