• September 01 2022 | 10 mins read

How Can Ecommerce Brands Prepare for a Cookieless Future

Cookies remember what you do on a website. They’re how sites show you ads similar to products you search for. 

Ecommerce businesses love cookies for this reason—but they’re not sticking around. Following Safari and Firefox’s lead, Google is now planning to phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser to protect anonymity and offer a better user experience. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to drive ecommerce revenue and succeed in delivering value in a cookieless world.

What are cookies?

Web or browser cookies collect and save browsing activities for a smoother browsing experience. Web servers generate these small text files to label your computer with a unique ID and understand what you’re looking for.

Put simply, cookies track your online activity to provide a personalized experience across the web. Websites use cookies to personalize future visits based on previous interactions. For example, ecommerce brands use cookies to identify shopping cart items, track browsing habits, and run retargeting ads. 

Now, let’s look at third-party cookies and why they potentially won’t be around anymore.

What are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies are created by websites other than the ones you visit. AdTech platforms use these cookies to track user or device activities and show relevant advertisements.

Imagine you looked up a smartphone online. You browsed a few sites but didn’t end up making a purchase. Within a few days, you start seeing different smartphone ads. These ads aren’t a coincidence. The ads you see are targeted based on third-party cookies stored in your web browser.

What are session cookies and first-party cookies?

Session cookies, or transient cookies, are temporary files that expire after a session. A website server sends these cookies to a browser when you launch a website or a web app. These cookies store information in a temporary memory location instead of on your device. 

Session cookies enable faster web page loading by notifying the server of page components already sent by the browser. Thus, the browser doesn’t need to resend those files—resulting in a speedier load time. The browser deletes session cookies when you close a session. 

Online stores, for example, use session cookies to store products users add to their carts. Those products remain in your cart even if you switch to another page. Another way in which cookies are used is to remember details from previous sessions. For example, when you visit an ecommerce site, and it remembers your email address and password—that’s a first-party cookie.

A host domain creates first-party cookies to ensure a better user experience. Websites you visit store these cookies and don’t share them with other sites or advertising partners. 

Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies?

Digital ad delivery has traditionally relied on individual user data collection via third-party cookies. In recent years, however, privacy and identity concerns have eroded web users’ trust. 

72% of people feel that advertisers, technology firms, and other companies track a great deal of what they do online. To address these concerns, Google has committed to phasing out third-party cookies in 2024.

Google intends to develop a Privacy Sandbox to protect anonymity and privacy online, create a secure web, and offer personalized web ads to support publishers. Google Chrome will block third-party cookies under Google’s plan.

Despite the cookieless future, Google will continue to sell web ads using the Topics API that collects your interests as you move around the web. Every site you visit will come under 300 broad, pre-defined topics. This privacy-first and internet-based advertising technology will track browsing habits and place users in cohorts with similar interests for ad targeting.

Are other types of cookies safe?

Retailers and ecommerce businesses will still be able to collect first-party data. That means you can still collect website visitor data with consent from users.

The impact of a cookieless future on e-commerce

Ecommerce marketers must rethink ad targeting, ad impression measurement, and cross-channel attribution strategies in the face of a cookieless future. Here are a couple of ways cookieless ecommerce will affect businesses.

  • User identity 

Cookies monitor user activity and engagement across platforms. Brands will find it hard to classify new and returning customers and analyze ad impressions without third-party cookies. These problems can lead to poor sales performance, meaning many businesses will need to adapt and find a new way to provide a personalized experience.

  • Ad targeting 

Marketers will face difficulty generating a return on ad spend (ROAS) without third-party cookies. A higher level of privacy control could result in less personalized ads for users. To persuade buyers at different stages, ecommerce brands will rely more on cookieless targeting.

  • Attribution 

Multi-touch attribution is crucial for marketing teams to understand how consumers interact with brands across channels. Without cookies, it will be hard to track customers’ behavior throughout the buying journey. Adapting to this change may lead marketers to abandon attribution-based marketing.

The end of cookies will push marketers to transform current marketing and advertising practices. Businesses need to leverage behavioral targeting instead of user session tracking to reach customers with targeted ads.

How to adapt in a cookieless world?

A cookieless world requires finding and adapting transparent and trustworthy ways to reach and engage customers. Here are some ways your ecommerce brand can fight third-party cookie crackdown.

  • Focus on data-driven marketing: to create personalized campaigns using data collected through surveys, sign-ups, and forms. 
  • Organize and segment customer data: to improve data management capabilities and create targeted marketing campaigns. 
  • Improve the on-site experience: being unable to target customers as before means you’ll need to make up for it elsewhere. Smart search, for example, improves product discovery for users and helps show them relevant products.
  • Use geo and behavioral targeting: to serve targeted, personalized recommendations and ads.
  • Rethink first-party data strategy: to harness the power of data from across your operations, such as customer relationship management (CRM) tools, billing solutions, call centers, emails, and marketing platforms.
  • Use heat maps: to understand customer journeys on your website. 
  • Reach new audiences: by leveraging contextual targeting with keywords and ad placements on display advertising platforms.
  • Use data clean rooms: to test data within the Google ecosystem and boost paid media performance.

Cookieless marketing may not be as simple as flipping a switch, but keep up with the latest trends to know what’s working. Innovative AI solutions are giving ecommerce brands more options when it comes to optimizing the online shopping experience. For example, ViSenze’s discovery suite provides personalization solutions to ecommerce businesses without needing third-party cookies.

Now, let’s explore some strategies you can use to succeed in the cookieless ecommerce world.

Ecommerce strategies for cookieless future

An ecommerce business’ biggest challenge in a post-cookie world is cookieless or anonymous tracking. Cookieless tracking means ecommerce businesses won’t know what users did on their sites, where they came from, or what they did in previous sessions. This user anonymity leaves companies with little insight into demographics, attribution, or purchase funnels.

Luckily for you, we’ve covered two key strategies to help you prepare for a cookieless future.

Strategies that leverage session cookies

Session cookies are those considered strictly necessary under data privacy legislation, such as the EU’s general data protection legislation (GDPR). These cookies store ecommerce site search inputs and track user movement within a website. By using session cookies, you can offer relevant products to online shoppers during one-time or multi-page visits to your site. You can also use session cookies to improve conversion rates by guiding users to key pages based on their activities.

Imagine you add products to a shopping cart. Then you move to another page to explore other items but return to your cart to find it empty. This isn’t the experience customers want. Session cookies help track real-time changes with simple text files.

Session-based recommendations

With session-based recommendations, ecommerce retailers can predict and display items based on what users explored previously.  For example, Smart Recommendations combine visual AI and machine learning to help you show personalized product recommendations to customers. A session-based recommendation engine like this outperforms a generic ecommerce recommendation engine.

As a result, businesses can increase average order value (AOV) and conversions by letting customers shop the look, filter for similar-looking products, and find complementary items. It’s a way to give shoppers what they’re looking for without depending on third-party cookies.

Preparing for a cookieless future

Ecommerce retailers and AdTech players have been wrestling to find cookie-free strategies that work. With marketers looking for new cross-site tracking methods, time is ticking. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for a cookie-free environment.

  • Create efficient first-party data resources to build accurate customer segments and identify customer behavior patterns across devices
  • Use first-party cookies to analyze customer journeys and deliver personalized experiences.
  • Ask for consent and protect customer identities as they sign up for newsletters or create an account on your platform.
  • Look for cookieless marketing channels such as email marketing to focus on contextual advertising.
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest third-party cookies news and data privacy rules.

Safari and Firefox already banned third-party cookies, paving the way for a cookieless future. Now that Google is also going to cookieless, you need to consider innovative ways to boost order size and conversion.

Get ready for a cookieless future with smart product discovery. Sign up for a demo to experience how ViSenze can help you continue to deliver a high-quality, personalized user experience on your ecommerce site.

About the Author

About the Author

Diogo Quintas is Head of Product and has led the productization of the market-leading AI platform-ViSenze Discovery Suite, making it more easily accessible to retailers, brands, and merchants globally. Before ViSenze, Diogo led the development of Search Technologies and Recommendations platforms at Sainsbury’s Argos

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