cookies-gingerbread-manFrom May 26th 2012 UK websites have to comply with EU cookie law. This basically means that website owners must get the consent of users before serving them web cookies.

A cookie, simply put, is a text file that is downloaded onto your PC when you visit a website. Not all sites use cookies. If you are a small business with an information site that does not require files to be downloaded onto a user’s computer, then you will not need to worry about the cookie laws. We do not use cookies on the majority of the websites we build for our clients. However, there is one exception, and that is when we develop an ecommerce website. Let me explain why.

What cookies can be automatically downloaded on your computer and what can they do?

Text files have a variety of functions including:
  • Count visitors
  • Store shopping basket items
  • Auto-fill forms
  • Personalise content
  • Target advertising
  • Record user preferences
  • Provide security and authentication
As you can see, some of these text files are very useful and without them browsing the web would be very difficult, such as when you put items into your shopping basket,  the website needs to remember the items you have chosen and list them when you go on to view your basket.
There are two types of cookie, essential and non-essential

Essential cookies
Cookies used for the shopping basket and checkout and those used to provide security for online banking.
Essential cookies delete themselves after 20 minutes or when you close the browser and are often called session cookies.

Non-essential cookies
Tracking cookies that remember when a user returns to a website, analytic cookies that count the number of visitors to a website and cookies used by advertisers.

Have you ever wondered how an advertiser can appear to follow you around your web browsing? Let’s say you are searching for Pink Wellington boots and you have visited 2 or 3 sites and then decide to search for different product and suddenly an ad pops up for Pink wellies. That is the result of third party advertisers using the information stored on your PC to advertise their products.
It is the non-essential cookies that the EU legislation is intended to target.

Browser setting changes
The legislation has also meant that browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome have changed some of their setting to prevent sites from “setting any data”.

We are finding that some of our ecommerce clients are receiving reports from customers who are using web browsers, such as the chrome web browser, not being able to view the items they have placed in their shopping baskets.

On investigation we found that the customer had “Block sites from setting any data” ticked in their settings.
If you are experiencing these problems when shopping online and want to solve the problem in Chrome, go to:
  • Settings
  • Advanced settings (at the bottom of the page)
  • Then select the content settings tab
  • Select “Allow local data to be set (recommended)”
  • Save
We would love to know your thoughts on whether you think cookies enhance your web experience or annoy you with pop up advertising.

Is serving adverts for products you are looking for a bad thing, or does it provide more choice?
Please leave your comments below.

Mark Langston

13th May 2013
ecommerce-bagsInternet sales key points
  • The average weekly spend online (Internet sales values non-seasonally adjusted) in January 2013 was estimated at £546.5 million. This is an increase of 8.7% compared with January 2012.
 
  • The amount spent online accounted for 10.1% of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel.
 
  • As expected, more was spent online in the non-store retailing sector than any other sector. Spending online now accounts for 68.1% of total spending in this sector, up from 67.2% in January 2012. In the food sector 3.7% of spending was online, up from 3.0% a year earlier. This sector has the lowest proportion of online spend in relation to all spending but stands at record levels.
 

Figures taken from Office for National Statistics website, Retail Sales, January 2013. http://bit.ly/13mKfoT

 
With online sales continuing to grow, it is not surprising that anyone with ambitions to sell products to the public or trade is going down the online shop route.

You can start a business from scratch in a very short space of time with minimal outlay. There is no time spent finding suitable premises to rent and paying high monthly overheads, just a well designed website that is built to convert traffic into product buying customers.

Just like a retail shop on the high street, you will need to have a plan to make the launch of your online shop run a smoothly as possible; here are some useful steps to help you get there:

Products
Descriptions of your products need to be detailed and as full as possible. This will not only help your buyers select the right product, but also assist search engines to find and rank the products on your website.

You will need to supply;
  • product codes for each individual product to help identify items,
  • good quality images and prices.
Stock control
You will need to accurately input your stock into the system. Product stock will be reduced when a product is ordered from the website and shown as “out of stock”, or removed from the website, when stock levels reach zero.

Delivery and payment
Where will you be delivering products to, UK only or worldwide?
What delivery methods do you intend to use? Here are some options:
  • Standard 2nd Class
  • Standard 1st Class
  • Special Delivery Next Day
  • Courier.
How do you wish to calculate your delivery prices? Here are some options:
  • by each product having a postage price
  • by total weight of the items purchased
  • by total value of the items purchased
Bear in mind that FREE delivery over a certain value is a powerful persuasion tool to get people to buy, and spend more.

Will your products be sold inclusive of VAT? Usually for sales direct to public they will be. Do you need a VAT number?

Taking payments online requires a payment gateway. There are a number of suppliers of payment gateways, including banks. Do you have a preferred supplier in mind?

Do you require a secure certificate (SSL)? A secure certificate encrypts client data during the checkout process; this gives customers peace of mind. It is not required (but recommended) with Paypal express checkout, however most other payment gateways do.

How would you like customers to contact you (email, phone etc.) and where do you want to display the information on the website?

Special offers
Will you want to create special offers for your products? For example:
  1. Basic product discount
  2. The ability to offer a SALE price, and a WAS price
  3. Basic product percentage discount
  4. The ability to offer a percentage discounted price, and a WAS price
  5. Volume discounts per product
  6. The ability to have different unit prices based on quantity
  7. Buy one get one free (BOGOF) or similar offers, where a second, or indeed third product is discounted by percentage
  8. Spend over a certain threshold on an order to receive a percentage discount, free delivery or money off.

Do any of your offers need to have other limiting factors? For example:
  • From and to dates where the special offer is valid
  • Is the special offer open to existing customers, or perhaps just first time buyers
  • Are offers able to be used in conjunction with one another
  • In the case of value based discounts, how do they interact with order value threshold discounts

Do you want to be able to create Voucher codes?

Will you require the ability to email your customers with offers and information?

Related products
Will you want to show related products? Related products are a way of cross selling other products that are similar to the product being looked at.

Visitor statistics
Do you require advanced visitor statistics? Advance statistics allow you to monitor customer habits as they browse the website. They give key information allowing you to fine tune your products and offers.

Do you want to be able to monitor product views versus sales and show a ratio? This allows you to assess pricing and product information to ensure you maximise sales.

Testimonials
Will you want to show product testimonials? Product testimonials give the customer extra confidence when looking at a product that has had good feedback from previous buyers.

Do you want a buyer feedback stage at the end of the checkout? Getting feedback from the buyer straight after the checkout can help to iron out any issues that they had whilst shopping on your website.

Social media
Social media is playing a big part in online sales. Are you already using social networks (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and do you want to integrate them into your online shop?

Other things to consider:
  1. Suitable packaging
  2. Delivery documentation
  3. Returns policy
  4. Refunds
  5. Statutory legal requirements
  6. Comprehensive terms and conditions

We can advise you on and help you with writing any of the information needed to set up a shop.

Mark Langston

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