Oh no, I’m about to lose my cookies!

June 24, 2021
By Chris Cowles

By Chris Cowles

Contributing Writer

With new restrictions on the horizon that will impact online marketing and advertising, what’s a retailer to do?

One thing we can count on in digital commerce as marketers is the change that is frequently driven by technology and the ever changing rules and regulations associated with the access to and the use of personal information.

One potent ally in our arsenal of tools to construct and execute online marketing and digital advertising will soon depart. I am of course talking about third-party HTTP cookies and tracking pixels.

The winds of change are being fueled by planned third-party cookie blocking announced by tech giants like Google and Apple. Firefox and Apple Safari already enforce blocking of third-party cookies with Google Chrome having announced their ban starting in 2022.

It’s a storm that retailers and marketers will need to understand and prepare for in order to minimize “storm damage” to their businesses and marketing efforts.

When these changes take place, retailers will no longer be able to use third-party cookies and similar information as the primary basis for targeting and personalization. While we have become comfortable being able to provide levels of personalization across devices and platforms used in retail commerce, as this type of tracking technology changes we may now see a splintering of our view of customers and our ability to personalize our messaging and offers. This is also likely to trigger a reevaluation by retailers of things like privacy policies, data collection and usage strategies as well as marketing tactics as they prepare for the near term business impacts sans tracking cookies will cause.

How do retailers maintain focus on creating exceptional and personalized customer experiences?

Example of modern retail technology

Over the 18 months or so, driven by COVID-19’s impact on businesses of all types, we have seen major upticks in eCommerce sales and a shifting to digital environments and tactics to gain and retain business. But in a cookie-less age, how do retailers maintain focus on creating exceptional and personalized customer experiences supported by their marketing initiatives via the data available to
them? It’s a data acquisition and usage challenge with customer privacy ramifications that needs to be met head-on and dealt with creatively.

The challenge is rooted in technology and also at least in part addressable by technology as CDPs (customer data platforms), advanced customer analytics and similar tech become more prominent. Investments to shore up data tools and to support data strategies in a cookie-less world may very well be needed.


Fundamental precepts still apply

It boils down to some fundamental precepts – know your customer, understand the path or paths they take to a purchase, know what information they may need along that path to make informed decisions and do what is feasible to earn and keep their trust. These concepts have not changed for decades, but without cookies they will become harder to recognize, understand and respond to.

Collaboration is key to aligning data strategies and policies

Customer data touches numerous facets of a retail business. As such, there are a number of groups that may be involved in its collections, categorization, usage and governance. In preparation for a third-party cookie-less age, retailers need to seek the collaborative and collective counsel of an array of internal disciplines like marketing, sales, customer service, IT and more as they work to
realign their data strategies and policies. More emphasis will need to be placed on building an engaging experience for customers where it’s not just about offering great products, but also great information for their buying decision and perhaps value-add online services, community of like-minded customers, or an engaging online experience. By making the experience visiting and shopping in
your online store a first-person experience, the need for third-party anonymous tracking is no longer required.

It’s a matter of trust

Turn up the dial on Trust

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Stephen Covey

I mentioned trust a couple of paragraphs back. It’s a crucial element in gaining and retaining customers. It’s common sense that we will do business with organizations and people we believe we can trust. So focusing effort on the privacy side of consumer data collection and use is important as a cornerstone for building customer trust.

Getting customers to share their information with a retailer is not a new challenge. We all face it when we ask a customer for personal information. It can be hard to obtain information like phone numbers and email addresses as customers, and even simply website visitors, may be unclear as to how, when and why it will be used. Requiring a customer to login before shopping is often a proven
barrier for conversion. Therefore, utilizing first-party cookies, which are still allowed, to establish a trusted user session with the customer can help make sure a personal and user-specific engagement is achieved. It’s critical for retailers to be as transparent as possible with customers about such matters. This is how trust is built. And without trust, the chances of obtaining and having
permission to utilize customer data are greatly diminished. Data privacy remains an increasingly significant flashpoint with consumers with regulations like GDPR and CCPA being passed to help address it.

Pay attention to your data

I find it interesting, based on personal observations in a variety of companies, how often companies fail to clearly map out and acquire a deep understanding of the data they are collecting. Often this data is allowed to age without refreshing or to exist incomplete so that a holistic and accurate view of the customer universe is not possible and thus the data collected cannot be effectively
used to make business decisions going forward. This is only likely to intensify in a third-party cookie-less environment.

In closing

In the coming cosmos of lost third-party cookies, retailers may find it necessary to seek out new and unfamiliar sources of data and a greater diversity of data to enable them to still glean sufficient levels of consumer insight to drive their marketing and overall business strategies.

So as we prepare to empty our marketing shelves of third-party cookies, remember there will always be something sweet to take their place. Let’s start baking.

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