How ecommerce brands can thrive at scale in a future without cookies
Cookies are a staple of eCommerce brand marketing. But as privacy concerns grow, tech companies have been forced to reassess how they track users. Firefox and Safari have already phased out third-party cookies. And while Google has pushed the deadline of their phase-out back to 2024, a cookieless world is unquestionably on its way.
This presents a serious challenge for eCommerce businesses. No longer will they be able to easily harvest information about their users, personalize the shopping experience or serve targeted ads.
So what are they going to do?
Why cookies matter
Data is an essential asset for digital-first businesses. But generating high-quality data yourself can be time-consuming and expensive. That’s why third-party cookies have been so popular: they enabled even relatively small eCommerce brands to target specific consumers and benefit from a pre-existing marketing infrastructure.
Without access to third-party cookies, businesses will be responsible for generating their own data. Organic data gathering and engagement will rise in prominence, which will test both the strategic and technical capacity of founders. But it may also be a net positive.
The benefits of a cookieless world
Counterintuitively, losing access to third-party cookies may be the best thing that ever happened to many eCommerce brands. The privacy concerns around cookies are not spurious; many consumers are genuinely put-off by retargeted ads following them around the web. In fact, 72% of people feel that advertisers, technology firms, and other companies track too much of what they do online.
For growing eCommerce brands, a cookieless world will force them to engage more directly with their audience. While this may cause some short-term pain, those that strategically prepare will emerge with a stronger connection to their audience.
Five ways to prepare for cookieless eCommerce
1. Build your owned channels
eCommerce brands have to generate their own customer data. The best way to do that is to directly interact with customers through channels that you own – your blog, email database and social media platform. The data gathered here may be smaller in volume, but it is yours – and it concerns your own audience.
Start building these channels now, so they are mature by the time cookies are truly gone. Your website should contain plenty of prompts to join your email list; offering a discount in exchange can dramatically increase conversions. Equally, regular posting on your blog and social profiles will help them grow.
2. Develop analytics capabilities
You will need to mine your data for valuable insights, and this requires certain technical capacities. For one, you’ll need to be able to gather all the data you generate across your owned channels into a single place; you’ll then need to know how to analyze it effectively.
The question is always: what do you want to do with your data? User reviews, email responses, blog engagement – all of these things can provide powerful insight. But the strategic question is how you are going to apply that data to increase your understanding, improve your offering and connect with your audience.
3. Use second-party data
While third-party cookies will be obsolete, there will still be plenty of companies offering second-party data. This tends to be generated through things like surveys and interviews – basically anything where a consumer might permit their information to be collected for marketing purposes.
This can be a vital source of insight, particularly if you’re trying to make more informed decisions about how you market your site, what products you sell or which customer segments to focus on.
4. Focus on organic engagement
Data is important, but it is not the only way to connect with consumers. Rather than spending all of your time and energy pumping out social media ads, you can create a more authentic connection by simply posting organic content.
This will be a big part of the cookieless world: brands will compete on the basis of genuine engagement, rather than advertising budgets and targeting strategies. Preparing now – and being highly consistent – will put you in good stead when the time comes to go cookieless.
5. Find an expert partner
Not every eCommerce founder has the time, skill or inclination to worry about cookies. But they do need to adapt in order to scale their brand. That’s why many will benefit from finding external partners – or potentially investors – that can offer real expertise in the area.
This will take the load of their backs, save them from learning a whole new set of skills and likely help accelerate their brand’s growth and resilience.