Getting out the cookie cutter

Changes to cookie laws have thrown web-based businesses into confusion. GrowthBusiness finds out how companies are coping.

Changes to cookie laws have thrown web-based businesses into confusion. GrowthBusiness finds out how companies are coping.

Consent is often a difficult thing to quantify, be it planning consent to construct a building or consent to drill a new hole for oil and gas.

The notion of consent has dominated the recent changes to online cookie laws, or as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) likes to put it, e-Privacy directives.

Modifications brought in during May of this year have attempted to clarify just what consent actually means when it comes to the process of tracking users’ activities on websites, particular those with an e-commerce bias.

The new regulation was set to be implemented in the UK back in 2011 but, with few businesses ready to deal with the changes, the deadline was put back to this year.

Websites with the most traffic were quick to apply changes, but the knock-on effect for growing businesses has been, and remains, unclear.

Claire Thompson, head of online and social media at Global Integration, says that the company has conducted a full audit of its cookie policy and has decided that ‘utter transparency’ was needed.

She adds, ‘The biggest element for us is that we are a global company, so we need to meet the law in every country.’


Following its audit, Global Integration is relaunching its website on 1 August, with its overhaul making sure that upon entry to the site users are presented with clear and upfront information about what they are consenting to.

Despite the fact that the training and consultancy business is showing its cards in full, Thompson personally says the changes to the regulation are akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, with the way it has been implemented not good for consumers.

The audit itself took two days of specialist work and now every time the business adds something to the website, changes to its cookie policy will have to be made.

For Damian Scragg, managing director for Evidon UK, the changes presented a challenge on two fronts. The business itself advises clients on privacy and compliance for digital media but also had to modify its website so that it didn’t fall foul of the regulation.

Scragg says the main element to the amendment was that giving notice was no longer a satisfactory approach to informing consumers.

‘The point of contention is what is “consent”,’ he explains. One is implied consent, where the mechanism to inform is clear but you don’t have to click on it.

‘The other is explicit consent, which requires much more of a clear notice before the user gets to the site.’

Scragg and Evidon’s advice, which it is both dishing out and applying to itself, is to provide an indicator under the ‘implied consent’ notion that is very clear and allows browsers to find out more.’

The new opt-in or out function that Evidon has installed on its own platform has so far only seen 0.22 per cent of users click on the banner and a total of 0.04 per cent opt-out.

Help not hindrance

With 18 years’ worth of experience in the online world Michael Ross thinks that the directive was poorly conceived in the first place and says that it has resulted in a ‘huge amount of fuss and anxiety about nothing’.

Ross was one of the entrepreneurs behind online lingerie retailer and is now part of a business which he also co-founded. His eCommera company supplies services that allow brand owners and retailers to increase sales across various channels.

‘Ten years ago the concept of analytics was few and far between, most people survived on ad hoc analysis of server logs. But over the last decade it has become a completely default thing, every online retailer in the world requires it, and you can’t run an e-commerce business without it,’ Ross says.

For an e-commerce business like analytics is key, Ross adds, as it has allowed the company to see how visitors and customers are behaving on the site. By looking at bounce and conversion rates it is able to monitor just what marketing sources are bringing in revenue, and those that aren’t.

To deal with the cookie directive, Ross recommends finding a mainstream retailer, like John Lewis, and simply copying what that website is doing – a strategy used by while he was at the helm.

While GrowthBusiness has reported on a lot of new exciting and innovative e-commerce websites such as Stylistpick and Lyst, Ross says that there are a lot out there not making any money.

He adds, ‘You need all the help you can get so making it harder to trade online isn’t great.’

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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