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The New Cookie Policy Laws

So you will now be seeing lots of messages on all your favourite websites talking about cookies and while it may sound like a very tasty subject it's a thorn in the side of web developers and web users alike.

Some European bureaucrat in his infinite wisdom has decided that it was insufficient being able to see what cookies have been saved from the settings menus in the browser and that websites should have to go to the expense of overhauling their sites to ask permission before cookies are saved (even though a site may fundamentally not work like that).

It's worth saying here that cookies are completely safe. They are just small text files that a website can save on the computer once a page has been visited, other websites cannot view these cookies and they are so small in size that the storage space is insignificant. While a website can put whatever text they like in them there would be no point putting malicious code in it because there is no way to trigger the code.

And while cookies may sound very insignificant they are actually very important for websites and are fundamental for the functionality you have come to expect from sites. I am not sure you could even build a fully functional online shop without the use of cookies.

It seems the government is trying to fix the unemployment problem by giving thousands of programmers menial jobs to do.

As well as the massive task of changing all these websites what other problems are there?

Well I'm pleased you asked...

The first few seconds a user spends when they initially come to a website are so important and I cannot overstate this enough, it would be terrible if this time was spent reading about cookies. Websites could find they have a decreased average time on site and an increased bounce rate (users leaving them). Does this now put American websites at an advantage over our own now? Websites spend a lot of time and money making sure the right messages are displayed in the right order in the first milliseconds a user spends looking at the site, and this is going to be counterproductive to all this research.

Displaying messages to the user about cookies can be confusing, worrying and off-putting. Most websites have no choice but to put a large message up on every page, using some of their precious screen space, and I believe this is not what web users want. Every click a user makes is crucial and it is a challenge for web designers to keep their attention so the user doesn't leave the site. This has now been made a bit harder because we will have to get that extra click asking permission to save cookies.

I don't know how search engines are going to handle all this new text information, it is likely that any cookie messages that will be displayed will also be in a prime SEO location, so it could negatively impact sites (however Google are too smart to let this happen). I feel sorry for websites legitimately trying to sell edible cookies because they now have to literally compete with millions of other websites.

I am also unsure why the onus has been put on the websites to improve things, it seems to be the least efficient way to manage this because of the vast number of websites that now need to be changed.

At the heart of this is trying to get web developers and web users alike to question why a cookie has been saved. A web developer needs to ask "Do I really need to save this cookie?" and a web user needs to ask "Do I really want this cookie saved?".

Other ways this situation could have been handled:

  • Simple user education, if internet users knew what cookies are and what they do they can make their own risk assessment.
  • Categorising the cookies, it would be very easy to programatically guess what is contained in the cookie and once this has been done either by the browser or a separate program different cookies could be handled in different ways. This program could look for session ID's and only allow them for a maximum of 30 days, or reject cookies that look like they are storing E-mail addresses.
  • Third party tools for managing cookies, programs could be written that pop up when a cookie is being saved and what that cookie contained, the user could then either accept or reject the cookie. The program could even heuristically learn how to handle cookies in the future. I'm sure some antivirus companies would love to get involved with this.
  • Make it easier for users to see what is contained in a cookie so they can remove it if it is personal.
  • All browsers already give the functionality to view and remove cookies, and I don't think the browser companies should be left with the responsibility either, however one option is to radically improve how browsers manage cookies and how they are managed by the user.
  • Change the cookie system to allow a description of how the cookie is used to be saved, this is the most complex however I love the idea of a small notes field where a programmer can say why a cookie was saved and this gives the user even move information about when and why cookies are used.

In Conclusion:

We are really unhappy about the changes, however we have no choice but to follow the law. I think the reason for making the law change was unnecessary and will have a big impact on many companies when there were other ways that the problem (if there is even a problem and I don't think there is) could have been solved that would have given some companies more opportunities to develop new technologies or update the existing cookie technology.

I also think that some EU council member got caught by his wife looking at porn from the cookies that were left on his computer.

tldr: The websites that are legitimate will have to spend loads of money, time and resources implementing the cookie law, while the websites that are trying to hide their cookies will just not say they save any.

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Feedback on our Shop Admin.

About 3 months ago we radically changed our homepage, the shop administration page and also added templates to our shops. So we thought it would be good to get feedback on the shop administration page.

GroovyCart Shop Administration Panel.
GroovyCart Shop Administration Panel.

So leave your comments in the box below and we would be really interested to hear what you have to say!

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E-commerce Expo 2011 and what we are researching.

Last month some of the Groovy team went down to the E-commerce expo in London. It's a good chance for us to have a chat with other leading names in E-commerce, as well as attend some lectures by top internet companies such as Facebook, Google, eBay, PayPal, LinkedIn and many others.

We like to keep up with new trends and innovations so this is an excellent opportunity for us, this gives us a really good look at upcoming technologies and how the market will be moving in the future.

Many of the talks this year were about the psychology of selling online, an area which really interests us at GroovyCart, when you are dealing with such a large number of customers being able to improve orders by a tiny percentage provides a massive increase in orders across all our shops. After all, its in our mutual interest for our shops to do well, so we can continue to grow together.

Here are some of the really exciting things we have been looking at to do with the psychology of selling online:

  • Displaying the right products to the customer.
  • Persuading the customers to make the right choice.
  • Ensuring your customers have positive first impressions.
  • Preventing customer fallout.
  • Vertical movement around the shop.

We will be talking about some of these point in detail on this blog in the coming months, and also you will see lots of features being implemented on our shops if they haven't already been.

Displaying the right products to the customer

A customer cant buy a product if they cant find it. So how can we ensure a customer finds the product they are looking for?

For a while we have been recording how customers search for products and what products they go on to look at and eventually buy. Using this information in the future we will start arranging your products intelligently. We can find other customers that were looking for similar search phrases and then display the products that were more popular with this type of search behaviour. This way your shop will literally learn what products are more popular and show them to customers searching for those kinds of products.

Lets take a really simple example of this and show you the benefits this could have on your shop. Lets say you are selling iPod's and accessories. If you had 20 customers that searched for "iPod", they are all going to get lots of products because the term is so vague. But if 15 of those customers clicked on the 7th product from the top we can be fairly sure that other customers searching for the same thing will be interested in the 7th product. Just by moving this product to the top of the list for future customers, we would stop this product being below the page fold (where the bottom of the browser window ends and users have to scroll down to see more) it would therefore be more visible to customers in the future.

Even if all the products around it are more popular and get more views, this technique will find out what is currently more popular for a customers circumstances.

Persuading the customers to make the right choice

Or should I say, persuading the customer to make the decision we want them to make.

An excellent example of this is a customer that is about to complete an order on your shop, we want to allow them to remove items from their basket, but we don't actually want them to. It's a function we need to allow customers to do, but then the order value would go down.

So how do we prevent this?

One simple thing we have just started doing is using colours and images on the buttons to coax the customers to continue the order in the right direction and not remove things from their order.

Using colours like red give customers the feeling that they should not use this feature, where as a green or blue arrow will invoke the feeling that they are doing the right thing and thats the button they should press.

Example of good checkout form buttons
An example of good checkout form buttons.

Ensuring your customers have positive first impressions.

When a customer first comes to your shop they are very quickly going to make a decision on what they think about your shop; how trustworthy you are, the quality of your products, the value of your products etc. Almost every opinion the customer will make about your shop will be made on the first few pages they look at.

Once a customer has made a decision about your shop it's unlikely they will change their mind, they will close down to stimuli that would alter their opinion.

We need to make sure that a customers first impressions is a great one. We provide some excellent templates that give your GroovyCart shop a professional look and feel, you need to provide excellent content in the way of fantasic images and well worded descriptions, to make sure that your customer has the first impression that will makes him/her want to buy from you.

Preventing customer fallout

We don't want customers to leave your shop at all, especially if it's preventible. There are really simple things we can do to stop customers going away before they make an order, so in the next few months you will see some areas, especially on the registration and order pages, that will be simplified and streamlined. We will remove needless items, and make the whole process more intuitive.

You may have already noticed we are continuing to make very subtle changes on the checkout pages like removing the adverts and social links to stop customers getting distracted. We also monitor how long customers take to fill in fields, which ones they struggle with and time taken to complete the ordering process to find ways to make the experience quicker and easier.

Vertical movement around the shop.

Some customers know what they want from your shop and others are there to browse. Customers that know what they want are likely to use the search box and more likely to complete a purchase over someone that is browsing, they are also likely to spend more, this doesn't mean we should forget the customers that are just browsing, we have already spoken about showing the right product to a customer that knows what they want, but how do we try and guess what a customer wants when they might not even know it themselves?

To try and encourage impulse buying on your shop you need to show the customer products similar to the ones they are looking at. Showing them products from the same category or ones that were purchased at the same time as the ones they are looking at are simple ways to get exposure on products that the customer may be interested in.

Ideally you want a customer to go from product to product without having to go back to the homepage or a category page. This way they will browse your products more efficiently. One way we do this is using related products to help a customer jump between products, we also have tags and filters to narrow down searches.

The future.

We already have lots of this in the works and have been testing out different features to see how beneficial they will be and how well they will work. So we have lots of exciting things coming up in the future.

Back to the Expo.

We also got a chance to meet and talk to lots of other e commerce companies to see what they are doing and what interesting things they are working on for the future. As well as getting to talk to companies like PayPal, Adobe, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and many other internet brands.

PayPal at the E-Commerce Expo

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This is the biggest update we have ever made to GroovyCart.

This is the biggest update we have ever made to GroovyCart.

Let me take you on a tour of the main new changes to our website:

Our homepage:

We have totally rewritten our homepage, We hope you like our new look and logo, sorry if you thought you went to the wrong websites.

The main reason for the update was to give better SEO to our shops. Google should now find new shops and products faster and categorise our shops and products better.

This new homepage also gives us more tools to communicate help to our shop owners. This allows us to give you more help and support through our help manual and blog.

New Admin Panel:

We hope you have also seen our new Shop Administration Panel, we wanted to be the best looking shop hosting service around. We hope you found it easy to get used to this new style. It allows us to better inform you of new notifications and events while still giving you quick access to all our features.

We will move all of the other admin pages to this new style once we have worked out the best way to do this.

New Templates:

We have written a whole new templating engine on our shops, this means we can now style our shops however we like, while still using the power that the GroovyCart product system gives us.

We plan to release a new template every few weeks.

This means shops can now select between 3 different types of shop:

  • Select Colours – This is how our original system used to work, select the colours of different areas.
  • Stencil – Customisable templates, you get some control over the layout of the template
  • Full templates – New, Highly stylised templates with the least customisation options

These are just 3 of the main changes we have made. There have also been many smaller improvements to the site including many new features, better hardware and performance tuning to make our pages load as fast as possible, as well as improved SEO, bug fixes and security patches.

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Welcome to our First Blog Post.

Hello out there across the internet, welcome to our shiny new GroovyCart blog, we have launched this blog to coincide with our new look GroovyCart website. We hope you like our new modern approach and still find your way around easily. It's the same GroovyCart you love with some adjustments and additional features so you can really get the best out of selling or shopping with us.

This is our first blog article but every few weeks we will post new articles with tips on selling or information we think will be interesting or useful to you. So make sure you come back to see what we have to say.

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