Google Chrome Privacy Settings Foretell Major E-Commerce Headaches

One of the biggest ongoing headaches for E-Commerce execs has been customizable options for browsers, pop-up blockers, firewalls, spyware blockers and any other applet that is hawked to consumers. Without such consistency, it's impossible to control—or even predict—how Web pages will look and act for various customers and prospects.

With a new entry into the browser battleground—Google's Chrome—comes more customization nightmares. This problem is going to get a lot worse very quickly, as many E-Commerce sites try and get more complex with more interactivity, multimedia and even 3-D experiments at the same time as consumers are getting more comfortable playing with their browser settings.

A new report from Pingdom, a Swedish Web uptime monitoring group, points out just a handful of the disconnects E-Commerce directors can soon expect, especially if consumers start using the privacy modes now being offered.

Problem One: Unique Visitor Analysis. At a practical level, the privacy setting sidesteps cookies. This will have the impact of sharply increasing the appearance of unique visitors, as repeat customers are seen as new.

In turn, this will likely cause a sharp drop in conversion rates, as your analytics software tries to figure out why all these new site visitors aren't signing up. It's because they already have, and your incognito visitors are hiding that fact.

Then there's the fact that certain types of sites (not merely "adult" sites but ones that like to aggressively market, such as car or even book sites) are more likely to attract those using stealth modes and certain kinds of users (younger, more tech savvy) will be more likely to use that mode. Of course, there are tons of exceptions to those stereotypes.

Together, the report said, that's going to make Web activity comparisons even more unreliable.

"Comparing visitor numbers between different types of sites will be like comparing apples and oranges. Some sites will have visitors that are more inclined to activate the privacy mode of a browser than others," the report said. "For example, a Webmaster with three sites with different kinds of content will have a hard time getting visitor statistics that he can use for comparing their relative success since (each site) would have different ratios of 'privacy mode' surfers."

In short, to the extent that cookie-based analysis was ever accurate and worth doing, it can no longer be relied on. This problem is hardly new. Sites need to focus on meaningful numbers, such as actual purchases and actual visits to a page. Asking for site registration for more advanced features is also something that consumers will tolerate more, and it will have to be seriously considered if tracking is a priority.

But will such registration efforts turn off customers? Will E-Commerce folk find themselves analyzing a smaller population? Perhaps analyzing the wrong segment of their prospects? It's like those Web surveys that logically skew to the answers typically given by people between jobs and others who have plenty of time to fill out such things.

This is going to change from site to site, based on demographics. Many sites—more than some assume—will do fine with seeking registration as long as they don't abuse the privilege and make sure to provide value to those customers who opt to register. Treating customers with respect and providing them value? Whoever said the Web can't help businesses do better?