You may have noticed over the last few weeks a few 'pop ups' appearing when you logged on to websites referring to 'Cookies', asking you for your 'informed consent' to store your data. This is as a result of new EU legislation that came into force at the end of May, but, according to research by KPMG is being ignored by four out of five British businesses. There has been little publicity around this and many small and medium sized businesses in the UK may be unaware that their current practices are now illegal. So what exactly does this change mean and how can businesses continue online marketing strategies whilst remaining above the law?
Often the first reaction as a business owner is that any new legislation is an inconvenience so it is worth considering what the motive is behind it, and why it has been introduced. As consumers as well as business people, we're all aware that retailers are tracking our online activity in order to appropriately target their marketing. This Directive has been put in place to ensure the consumer is in control and can decline to have their interests online tracked in this way. So while it may seem like a hindrance, it makes sense. The latest eCustomerServiceIndex (eCSI) results from eDigitalResearch and IMRG in May found that 89% of people thought the new EU cookie directive was a positive step for consumers and if the customer is King, surely it would be wise to take their opinion on board.
So why are so many businesses choosing to ignore it? Well, at the last minute, in the UK, the Information Commissioner (ICO) granted British websites a year's grace period to comply with the new legislation, rather than fining them immediately. Perhaps the body felt that businesses were not sufficiently prepared for this, and has stated that websites can rely on "implied consent" for some aspects, so long as sites are satisfied that users understand the overall terms to which they have agreed. This means many online retailers may put off any change until next year. But a year can go by very quickly so I urge businesses to use this time wisely to prepare for the change in order to avoid a hefty fine twelve months down the line. Many small companies may be worried about the adverse effect this will have on their business but a fine for not complying is likely to be far more significant.
There are ways to adhere to this legislation without negatively affecting the user's experience. For example, instead of an intrusive pop up window, when our customers log onto our website, they can amend their preferences by clicking the 'Privacy and Cookies' tab, choosing to enable or disable our tracking of their cookies. This tab also explains to customers what cookies are and why businesses use them, and complies with the legislation without adversely influencing their visit.
Remember that Cookies are not the only way to obtain customer data. Ensure your eCRM software is effective and up to date and e-marketing strategies are maximising data collection and storage. If you have these additional tactics up and running by next May, it should ensure the blow is softened.
As a web hosting company, we have a responsibility to encourage our customers to also adhere to this legislation. This law has been fairly uncertain which is half the battle that we have faced. Now British online businesses have a year to make sure their websites are compliant, so there will be little excuse for not doing so. With thorough preparation and understanding of the situation, small and medium enterprises can ensure the Cookies Directive is seamlessly integrated into their operations.
Follow Thomas Vollrath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/webfusionuk