September 16, 2010, 2:33 PM

Sears blocks visitors who have disabled cookies

The retailer says less than 2% of its online shoppers experienced the problem.

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Consumers who disabled cookies on their browsers recently have found themselves in a tangle of redirects when visiting the e-commerce sites operated by Sears Holdings Corp., which runs such sites as Sears.com and Kmart.com The retailer says it is working to fix the problem, which Sears estimates affects less than 2% of visitors to its site.

Peter Alguacil, an analyst for web monitoring firm Pingdom, says the problem started around Aug. 19 and reached its peak on Aug. 26.  Sears, No. 8 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, did not say when the problem started, but the retailer says it is working to improve the site experience for consumers who have disabled cookies.

The problem started after Sears upgraded its web site to allow for more shopper customization and personalization, Pingdom says. Sears would not confirm that.

Alguacil says that when a shopper visited the site, it tried to set a cookie and then send the visitor to another page that expected the non-existent cookie to work. When that page could not find the cookie, the visitor was sent back to the initial page, presumably to obtain the needed cookie, he says. “Therefore visitors with cookies disabled were caught in an infinite loop of redirects back and forth so their browser couldn't load the web site at all,” he says.

The site experience varied by browser, he adds. Shoppers using Internet Explorer 8 found that the site would not load, for instance, without any reason given to the Sears visitor. Google Chrome displayed a message saying “This webpage has a redirect loop.” Safari simply informed the shopper that the page would not load.

As of Friday, visitors with disabled cookies saw this message: “Oops!! Your cookies have been disabled,” along with smaller type explaining that cookies help provide a more feature-rich experience on the site by enabling consumers to save preferences and store items in shopping carts.

Such a problem is not common, Alguacil says. “Some functionality may need cookies, but needless to say, it's considered poor practice to completely block users this way. So this was most likely an unintentional side effect of their site implementation,” he says.

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