Will Charging IE7 Shoppers More Finally Kill This Dead Browser?

Given a choice, most developers would rather avoid writing apps or a site for versions of Internet Explorer—especially older versions—mostly because of IE's tendency to go its own way. The same code that would be fine for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera often requires major changes for IE. This is part of the IE legacy, started a decade ago when the browser controlled some 95 percent of the market. Its share today is, at best, maybe 55 percent, with Chrome and Firefox trying to overtake.

But what choice does a retailer have? Even though it's a hassle, a chain can't simply opt to not support the leading browser, can it? Maybe not, but one Australian E-tailer has opted to fight back against one version of Internet Explorer: It's now charging customers a 6.8 percent IE7 tax. Honest. Customers who visit the site using that browser version will have that extra amount automatically added to their cart.

Kogan, the privately held consumer electronics shop which said it expects to book $150 million in revenue this year from more than 600,000 shoppers, posted a delicious graphic on its homepage. The image has an official-looking tax notice from the "Department of Internet Justice." It tells shoppers: "It appears you or your systems administrator has been in a coma for more than five years and you are still using IE7. To help make the Internet a better place, you will be charged a 6.8 percent tax on your purchase from Kogan.com. This is necessary due to the amount of time required to make Web pages appear correctly in IE7."

The graphic then shows icons for Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome and says, "Avoid the tax. Use a better browser."

The move is wonderful for so many reasons. First, one of the main reasons so many users are running on older browsers is laziness. As long as developers keep making all current sites run well on older browsers, there's not much of an incentive for someone to upgrade. Kogan's move makes users wake up and upgrade. Money has a wonderful way of motivating people.

But it's not about money. I doubt Kogan will make much from this move, nor did it likely even want to make money. The wakeup call—and, hopefully, the resultant upgrades or switches—is truly the goal.

(Update from original post:: Kogan CEO/Founder Rusland Kogan confirmed that he never really expected—nor wanted—to generate any revenue from this. His goal was to make a point and hopefully see a lot of people upgrading or changing browsers. "Hopefully, no people actually pay the 'tax.' It was a bit of humor and like all good humor, there is a lot of truth behind it," Kogan said in an E-mail reply to StorefrontBacktalk. "The response has been tremendous. We seem to have hit a real soft spot with anyone around the world that works with the Internet and technology.")

At a more minor level, this is the voice of IT screaming, "Things that take more money cost more money. If IE costs more to support than other browsers and its functionality is not any better, why are we doing this?" Corporate always encourages IT to think more about ROI, except when it comes to how the department internally bills.

Kogan's blog describes its efforts even more bluntly: IE development "is not only costing us a huge amount, it's affecting any business with an online presence, and costing the Internet economy millions. As Internet citizens, we all have a responsibility to make the Internet a better place. By taking these measures, we are doing our bit. This will help us increase our efficiency, help keep prices for all smart shoppers down, and hopefully help eradicate the world of the pain in the rear that is IE7."

Will this Kogan campaign ultimately make a difference? Will it make Microsoft easier to work with? OK, that question was unrealistic. But will the campaign maybe encourage Microsoft to fall in line? Will it get lots of shoppers to upgrade or change browsers?

The answers are most likely not dependent on either Redmond or consumers; rather, it's other E-tailers and especially the sites of major chains. Kogan doing this gets some attention. But until it is joined by Amazon, Walmart.com, Staples.com, Apple.com and the like, this campaign can only have a very limited impact.

(Note: According to our stats, about 46 percent of StorefrontBacktalk visitors use some version of Internet Explorer, with 10 percent using IE7. We're not going to charge you more, but would a little upgrade or switch truly hurt?)