Beware The Cookie Monster

You’re not losing your mind; web sites may have a completely different layout for you than for your friends and relations.

I had this topic driven home for me last weekend using JAWS when trying to buy a Kindle book on The Amazon site on all three of my desktop browsers kept telling me that the Mobile site didn’t support Kindle purchases and to use a desktop browser instead. This story does have a happy ending, but it took a while to figure out what was wrong.

I’m going to walk you through my troubleshooting steps because all of them are generally applicable to any site that doesn’t show you what you expect to be seeing. I don’t claim that my methodology is the best, only that it did get me to a satisfactory answer. If you have better ways of doing this type of troubleshooting, please  add your comments to the post.

Step 1: Is my window maximized and am I zoomed to 100%?

Most web sites use responsive design to ensure that they look good on everything from phones to large-screen monitors. To accomplish this, pages determine how much content to show based on available display space. On large screens, menus and other navigational content may be fully displayed, while on phones they may be hidden behind one or more buttons.

Just in case I was being shown the Amazon mobile site because my window was the size of a postage stamp, I maximized the window, zoomed to 100% and still got the error message.

Do I still get the error when I’m not logged in to Amazon?

Sites frequently change how and what’s shown based on preferences associated with your login ID. Since I was having the problem in all three browsers, I wanted to rule out that the problem was because of an account option I previously set. I logged out, tried again, and still got the error.

Anybody want a cookie?

Another way that sites can maintain your options across visits is by using things called cookies to store information in your browser that they can use to customize your experience next time. But if you visit a site using in-private or incognito mode the site doesn’t get to see your saved cookies.  This makes the experience the same as having never visited the site before and is often quicker than deleting cookies to determine if they’re the problem.  In Chrome you can open an incognito window with Ctrl+Shift+n. In all other browsers, use Ctrl+Shift+p.

After I opened an incognito window and no longer got the message telling me to go to my desktop browser, I remembered that a year or so back I had gone to the Amazon mobile site to try something. Apparently, I did this in all my browsers and each used a cookie to remember the preference.

There are some articles on the web that talk about a special URL for getting back to the desktop Amazon site after having visited the mobile one, but that didn’t work for me. I needed to delete my Amazon cookies before things returned to normal. Here’s how to delete them for a single site in Chrome and Firefox. Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge don’t have an option for clearing cookies for just one site. It’s all or nothing.

I can now happily report that the book I was trying to buy: Vocal Recall by Neil Ross is a great read if you want stories about working in broadcast radio or doing voice overs. And of course, you can read it with JAWS and Kindle for PC.

Incremental Site Rollouts

If you’re seeing something different on a web site than you’d expect, and the above steps didn’t help to explain why, there’s one more item that comes to mind. Web sites almost always roll out features incrementally across users. This allows them to abort the process if a feature turns out to have gone horribly wrong. So sometimes it just takes waiting a day to find out if the presentation you’re seeing morphs to that seen by others or vice versa.


  1. Gene

    If you use Piriform’s CCleaner, it has the ability to delete cookies for an individual site for Internet Explorer and I assume Edge.

  2. Deborah Armstrong

    I have two other troubleshooting tips. First, remember the refresh. F5 refreshes the browser; it forces it to reload the page. Insert-Escape refreshes JAWS; it tells JAWS to refresh its view of the page. If you’re frustrated, it’s all too easy to forget the refresh!
    Second, frustration means you aren’t thinking clearly. Fire up Notepad and try to describe the problem in a rational, detailed manner. This helps you calm down, understand what’s going on and possibly explain it to anyone who is offering tech support.

    And the more specific you can be, the better. For example “I can’t post to facebook” is vague. But “I don’t know if the post button I’m landing on pertains to the message I just typed” is specific.

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