Retailers need to accept that cookies are now in the hands of the customer and concentrate on educating them.

The deadline for compliance with the EU Cookie Directive in the UK is this Saturday, May 26. In simple terms, the rules under the new Directive mean that all UK websites must provide information on their cookie usage and obtain user consent before setting cookies.

This presents unique challenges for retailers. Indeed, it has been widely acknowledged by many in the industry that full compliance with the legislation would make ecommerce as we know it virtually impossible. After all, a customer couldn’t even move through to checkout without consenting to the use of certain cookies.

Of the four main types of cookies, those used for retargeting seem to cause the most concern – not to mention confusion – among consumers.  Over half – 55% – of people surveyed by the IAB recently said that they’d rather see online advertising relevant to their interests, but just 17% would be happy to consent to cookies used to improve ad relevance.

It’s a tricky issue. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media coverage to date has served only to complicate matters further, either in its technicality or by portraying cookies and, by association, retailers as ‘spying’ on consumers and endangering their privacy.

But our cookie usage will effectively lie in the hands of customers from Sunday onward. So we need to accept that, stop griping or, worse, burying our heads in the sand and start educating customers about the ways in which cookies enhance the shopping experience.

As one of the UK’s biggest online retailers, we’ve chosen to do just that and have been working with the BRC and other retailers to make sure our approached are aligned, adopting the International Chamber of Commerce’s guidelines.

This Friday, dedicated privacy sections will go live across all of our brand websites, featuring a variety of information about cookies. Rich media content will aim to bring to life what cookies really are, what they do and don’t do and what online shopping would look like without them. We also plan to ensure complete peace of mind and transparency for our customers by publishing a list of all of the cookies that we use, along with details on how they benefit the shopping experience.

Our customers have always had the option to opt out of using cookies on our websites and in our online advertising. But in reviewing our strategy, we recognised that this process could be clearer. Going forward, the opt-out information and buttons on our sites and online ads will therefore be far more prominent.

Yes, all of this requires effort and investment on our part. But approached with customers in mind, the Directive can actually provide an opportunity to eradicate some of the less helpful misconceptions about online shopping – particularly among less tech-savvy consumers. And that can only be a good thing.