Cube, dice or block with cookie icon on a laptop keyboard.

How eCommerce Marketers Can Survive and Thrive in a Cookieless Future

As Silicon Valley's tech giants begin to close the loop on third-party cookies, the time for eCommerce marketers to prepare for a cookieless future is now.

When it comes to marketing in the eCommerce space, something as benign as a Google algorithm update can make even the most experienced veterans turn pale. 

But while eCommerce marketers are often quick to sound the doomsday bell, Silicon Valley's hawkish position on third-party cookies does give off ominous vibes, especially as more shoppers demand personalized experiences online.  

There certainly are pros and cons about the upcoming cookieless future that all forward-thinking marketers are actively preparing for, but what's certain is you won't want to be caught flat-footed in the coming months, as 60% of web traffic will go cookieless by the end of 2023, and Google will phase out third-party cookies from Chrome entirely in 2024.

In this article, we'll discuss cookie fundamentals, why third-party cookies are being phased out, and how forward-thinking marketers (like yourself) can prepare for a cookieless future.

The Different Types of Cookies and Why You Should Care 

eCommerce shopper cookie data displayed on a tablet

While many reading this article are familiar with cookies, let's do a brief crash course on the types currently used in eCommerce marketing. While cookies always track user behavior, the depth of information they gather varies significantly. Here are the three types of cookies all marketers should be familiar with:

Zero-party cookies - Likely the most simple cookie form, zero-party cookies are derived exclusively from poll and survey data. This data is often considered a subset of first-party data, and is submitted directly from customers to determine communication preferences between your brand and them.

First-party cookies - First-party cookies are directly stored by your website when a user visits your domain. Site owners use first-party cookies to collect and leverage analytics on the users on their site to deliver better user experiences. 

For example, let's say you land on Amazon's login page and are greeted with a login form; that's what's called a "greeter," which is a first-party cookie that allows you to log in with your user ID and password. 

Your shopping cart is another first-party cookie that remembers all the items placed there during your journey. 

Finally, when you purchase an item and see other recommended products on the checkout screen, that's another first-party cookie observing your purchases and recommending items based on your preferences. First-party cookies will also remember demographic attributes, such as geolocation, sex/gender, etc.   

First-party cookies are one of the simplest and least-intrusive ways for brands to personalize the on-site experience, and they also hold no controversy as they are essentially a willing exchange of information from the user to the site and do not follow users when they navigate off-site.  

Third-party cookies - When it comes to third-party cookies, the digital waters start to get a bit muddy. These are cookies created by an entity that is not the site owner and are essentially tracking cookies created by advertising companies. Third-party cookies are why you see ads for things you searched hours ago everywhere you go. They follow you, track your browsing and purchase activity, and continuously bombard you with ads for a product you have shown interest in over a period of time.

While primarily used for advertising purposes, third-party cookies can access sensitive data such as medical history, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The abundance of third-party cookies has online shoppers concerned about their personal information falling into the wrong hands, ruining their shopping experience at best and exposing their personal information (via data breaches) at worst.

While the term "cookieless future" is being thrown around quite a bit in the eCommerce marketing space, the continued presence of zero and first-party cookies means cookies won't fully disappear in 2024.

Why Are Third-Party Cookies Being Phased Out?

As we can see, the differences between cookie types are significant, and it comes as no surprise as shoppers call for increased privacy online that third-party cookies would be the primary target. Here's a bit more insight into why third-party cookies are being phased out.

Despite their calls for more personalized online experiences, shoppers view third-party cookies as invasive both during and after their journey has concluded. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have expressed their intentions of keeping the browsing experience safe for all users, which is why these tech giants are at the forefront of the cookieless future with changes to both Chrome and iOS, eliminating third-party cookies from the equation. 

While this is a breath of fresh air for shoppers concerned with their online anonymity, the news hasn't been well-received by ad companies who claim these tech giants are leveraging their monopoly over the world's web traffic and impeding their ability to target ads down to the level of the individual.

And frankly, they have a valid point. These tech giants not only offer services to billions of users daily, but they also hold swaths of data on users who continuously use their services like Gmail, YouTube, Android / Apple devices, etc. Due to this fact, privacy improvements made by these tech giants will be relative, not absolute.

Nevertheless, these tech giants are well on their way to phasing out third-party on the world's most popular web browsers, meaning it's past time for you to begin formulating a cookieless strategy. 

What eCommerce Marketers Can Do to Thrive in a Cookieless Future

ecommerce marketers strategizing for a cookieless future

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for; how can marketers like yourself survive and thrive in a cookieless future? To answer this question, we turned to our friends at adQuadrant, a leading digital marketing agency providing solutions for brands like 1st Phorm and Aventon, for their take. These are the insights they had to share with the marketing community:

Double down on personalization -  We've said it before, and we'll say it again, personalization is paramount when it comes to eCommerce marketing. While the disappearance of third-party cookies will make targeting a bit more complex, personalization via first-party data remains a powerful and viable tool. 

Collect zero and first-party data responsibly - With third-party cookies gone, your opportunities to collect intricate data on shoppers became more limited. Fortunately, there are still effective ways for you as a marketer to capture meaningful data via zero and first-party collection methods. This includes surveys, forms for gated content, in-person and virtual events, etc. 

The key here is to make the exchange worthwhile for all involved parties. Shoppers are more hesitant to share their information than ever before and will expect to be rewarded for submitting their info via high-quality content, loyalty programs, personalized shopping experiences, etc. 

Use a blended attribution model - As third-party platforms collect less data, they can provide only so much information. Use your eCommerce platform's backend, Google Analytics, AND the media platform in concert to paint a holistic picture of your performance. Use MER to top it all off and show the true value of your marketing efforts. 

Leverage Owned Media - As the value of first-party data climbs, leveraging owned media to build your brand organically will be of paramount importance. This means using your website, social media accounts, and long-form content to cultivate trust and loyalty with your existing and prospective shoppers. As your audience grows and more views your brand as a thought leader in your space, their willingness to give you their information will only continue to grow. 

Flourishing in a Cookieless Era

While a cookieless future is a reality many marketers are dreading, the change could reveal unique opportunities for those operating in the eCommerce space. Now is the time to shift away from the more invasive marketing efforts and pivot toward data collection that prioritizes the shopper experience above all. Now you’re ready to elevate your online presence from a privacy-first perspective in 2023.      


Want to discover how WAIR can help your brand collect meaningful first-party data at scale? Schedule a demo here, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook for all your fashion content needs!

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