What if the Shopper Disables Cookies?

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Another good question was emailed to me by a merchant who is considering starting an affiliate program, and read my previous post on affiliate cookies and whether a shopper can have cookies from more than one affiliate on his/her computer. The question was:

What if the shopper has decided to browse the Internet in the highest security mode possible, and refuses to accept cookies? Will this negatively affect the affiliate tracking?

Short answer: If the platform chosen by the merchant relies on cookies for tracking, orders placed in the above-quoted context will indeed not track.

Long answer: While some people choose to disable cookies, believing that it provides them with higher online security through privacy, the vast majority of online shoppers do not. In many cases, the shopper will not be able to fully enjoy the shopping cart’s functions unless they choose to accept cookies [see the Yahoo! shopping cart example here]. In “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” (cf. pp. 24-26) I wrote:

…cookies are now such an essential part of the day-to-day Internet use that many websites will simply not function properly for the end-user unless he/she has the cookies enabled. Cookies help create a positive and enjoyable Internet experience through customization of each individual user’s utilization of the Internet.

The main question should be: how many online users actually turn cookies off? Commission Junction quotes 1%. Many online advertising agencies, affiliate networks, and websites stress the harmlessness of cookies and educate the end-users to keep those cookies turned on. For example, AllAboutCookies.org, a website of the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe, emphasizes: “Because cookies are just harmless files, or keys, they cannot look into your computer and find out information about you, your family, or read any material kept on your hard-drive. Cookies simply unlock a computer’s memory and allow a website to recognize users when they return to a site by opening doors to different content or services. It is technically impossible for cookies to read personal information.”

Let us return back to the statistics, as they are what is most relevant to the problem in question. In an article on “Internet privacy”, Wikipedia states: “Many users choose to disable cookies in their web browsers”. However, it does not give any statistics to how many users! Commission Junctions states that the number is only 1%, Opentracker.net quotes 3%. Regardless of how hard I tried, I was unable to find any other statistics on the issue. If one looks at the overall statistics of Internet users — according to Nielsen//NetRatings’ researches, in the USA alone 200,000,000+ people use Internet — 1%-3% is “many users”. It is basically anywhere between two and six million people in the United States alone. However, it is by far not a considerable number, as 97%-99% of users have those cookies turned on.

If you take a look at the above-quoted Wikipedia article on the Internet privacy, you will see that their wording has changed since 2007 when I published my book, and it currently reads: “Some users choose to disable cookies in their web browsers — as of 2000 a Pew survey estimated the proportion of users at 4%” [italics mine]. This still leaves us with anywhere between 96% and 99% of those that have them turned on and we do not know how many of those that do disable cookies are actually online shoppers.

My conclusion today is the same as it was two years ago: “unless you are using an affiliate tracking that is not dependent on cookies, the affiliate program will not be able to credit affiliate accounts on the sales made by those users that have disabled their cookies. However, the percentage of users that disable cookies is small enough for your affiliates not to give it too much concern.”

One thought on “What if the Shopper Disables Cookies?

  1. Geno-

    Thank you for doing the research on this! I’ve been looking into starting some affiliate websites lately. Knowing the percentage of disabled cookies users is very low is definitely reassuring.

    Best,
    Sean

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