Ad blockers render some mobile sites unusable

Popular ad blockers may render some online retail sites unusable from Apple iPhones.

Apple's newest operating system, iOS9, permits ad blocking extensions. And while that's a problem for media sites, it could be a much larger one for retailers as the software may also block some mobile websites.

The phenomenon could cause problems this holiday season.

A Fortune investigation shows that an iPhone enabled with ad blocker Crystal—one of the top paid iOS apps right now—is unable to fully render the e-commerce sites of many major retailers, including Walmart, Sears and Lululemon.

"This upcoming holiday season… content-blockers are going to cause a lot of problems," Chris Mason, CEO of Branding Brand, a Pittsburgh-based company whose platform powers mobile commerce sites and apps, told Fortune.

"First, the experience for customers will be lessened. Lots of sites will be missing content, have broken links, or customers won't be able to add certain items to their shopping carts. They'll probably just think the site is broken, but it's really their content blocker. Second, retailers will be data-blind, or at least data-dark. It will really impact their ability to make quick judgments."

Mason sent Fortune a list of retailers that could be effected by "Crystal-related glitches." Those include Bass Pro Shops, Lululemon, Sears, Walgreens and Walmart.

Problems were wide ranging. For example, some sites loaded product information but no images. A product page for Sears came up empty, without product images or text. Walmart and Lululemon's pages loaded, but the ad blocker also blocked a shopper's ability to add products to a cart, effectively blocking the sale.

Even for those retailers not effected, there's still a possibility that the technology could strip out code critical to a retailer's data gathering.

There are workarounds for data collection, and Crystal is looking into removing some retailers from the app's "black list." Some retailers had already contacted the company by the time Fortune's story was published. Other companies have voluntarily removed their ad blockers from the App store for the time being, according to FierceMobileMarketer.

Still, it could take time for all the glitches to be discovered, and even longer for IT departments to create the workarounds on the back end.
Or will Apple disable the feature on iOS9 before it risks ruining Christmas for the nation's retailers?

For more:
-See this FierceMobileMarketer story
-See this Fortune article

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