In the home furnishings industry, we’ve heard a lot of buzz about changes in advertising or marketing. From scare-tactic webinars and plays from experts who are promoting the one-size-fits-all replacement for cookies, retailers have now seen it all. But what’s really going on with third-party cookies? How is the way we advertise really going to change? As a leader in home furnishings technology and marketing, we’ve put our team to work in bringing you the guide to navigate upcoming changes (and the ones that already happened).
What Retailers Need to Know About Cookies
Cookies are bits of information that your website browser (think: Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome) picks up when you visit websites. We’re going to lean into the cookie metaphor for this so hang tight. Companies everywhere, including yours, have two types of cookie jars sitting in the back of your website handing out cookies to visitors. Some of these cookies come from a jar of your cookies. Some come from a jar mixed with cookies from other places.
Understanding First-Party Cookies
One of those jars belongs to you. We call these “first-party cookies”. Every time a visitor hits your website, they get a cookie from your jar and drop trails of crumbs all around your website. Your website analytics can see the cookie trail this visitor leaves behind. You’ll see what products they looked at, videos they watched, items that are in their shopping cart, and any user information like a login key. But since it’s your cookie jar and your cookie, everything is safe for the visitor. Privacy remains intact. When that visitor comes back to your website to look at more products, your website sees they have a cookie that matches the cookies in your jar. And you can continue giving them a personalized experience because you already know what they’ve seen before.
Because you place the first-party cookies on your website, you can see the information to provide a safer and better website experience when they come back.
Understanding Third-Party Cookies
The other jar sitting in the back of your website is from other sources. It’s a jar filled with cookies from everywhere that you need to track for business. One type of cookie in this jar might come from your advertising network. But as a growing furniture retailer, you advertise in several places and use several ad networks to target customers. So each one may have a type of cookie in that jar. This is just one example, but the more important one, of a third-party cookie.
Some common uses include:
- Cross-site tracking: the practice of collecting browsing data from many sources (websites) that details your activity
- Retargeting: using search activity to retarget visitors with visual or text ads based on the products and services for which they’ve shown interest
- Ad-serving: making decisions about the ads that appear on a website, deciding when to serve these ads, and collecting data to educate advertisers on consumer insights and ad performance.
Once a visitor gets a cookie from the third-party cookie jar, the crumbs follow them around your website. But it also leaves a trail on every other website they visit. You can’t see all the crumbs but advertising platforms like Google and Facebook use those crumbs and give you a chance to advertise to the people who left cookie crumbs from your website in other places that are important to you.
A third-party cookie is placed on a website by someone other than the owner (a third party) and collects user data. As cookies go, third-party cookies are there so that a site can remember something about the user at a later time.
What’s the Difference in Cookies?
Both types of cookies, first-party cookies and third-party cookies are bits of information that collect web-user data. Both are used to store user data such as surfing and personalization preferences and tracking information. The difference is in who uses that data and who the cookie collects data for.
Now that you’re craving sugary sweets, let’s dig into why third-party cookies are dead.
Changes to Privacy Since 2018
Third-party cookies are made and placed by third parties other than the website you are visiting. It seems simple enough. But what has changed over the last 4 years is the commitment to a safer web. Launched and led by the giants of internet tech, we’ve seen changes coming to privacy for shoppers and website browsers. The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) launched regulations giving consumers more control over the information businesses collect about them. According to the act, the law includes rights for California consumers like the rights to:
- Know about the personal information a business collects about them and how it is used and shared;
- Delete personal information collected from them (with some exceptions);
- Opt-out of the sale of their personal information; and
- Non-discrimination for exercising their CCPA rights.
Initiatives like this and the EU’s GDPR Compliance, General Data Protection Regulation, started the path toward giving more privacy and protection to people using the internet.
You’ve seen news breaking for years about mass data breaches and customer privacy leaked. This sensitive information like passwords, credit card information, identifying personal information, creates a problem for safety in shopping or browsing online.
Ending support and allowance of third-party cookies is the latest in this journey to create a safer web for everyone.
Who is Killing Third-Party Cookies?
Now that you know the basic level of how cookies work and the landscape of privacy online, let’s talk about who is responsible for this raid on third-party cookies.
What Safari Did
March 2020, Safari announced that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention had a big update for anyone using Apple products to go online. The announcement from Apple reads,
“Cookies for cross-site resources are now blocked by default across the board. This is a significant improvement for privacy since it removes any sense of exceptions or ‘a little bit of cross-site tracking is allowed.’
It might seem like a bigger change than it is. But we’ve added so many restrictions to ITP since its initial release in 2017 that we are now at a place where most third-party cookies are already blocked in Safari.
Safari continues to pave the way for privacy on the web, this time as the first mainstream browser to fully block third-party cookies by default.”
What Google Said
No one can argue that Google doesn’t set a trend. The internet giant wasn’t the first to make a move in blocking third-party cookies. But they certainly made a bigger splash.
In 2020 Google announced it intended to remove support for the third-party cookies. And they were bringing others with them to this Privacy Sandbox to figure out how to change the web to be a place without third-party cookies (among other things). In a blog post by Google in March 2021, the team stated:
“[…] as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies.
This has led to an erosion of trust:
In fact, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center.
If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.”
By 2022 the Google allowances for third-party cookies will be completely phased out. And another tracking alternative will not be added in its place. In both instances, Safari and Google focus on creating platforms that enable a privacy-first way to advertise to shoppers and internet users.
Marketing in a Cookie-less World
It was at this point that the scare tactics went into full effect. Companies started announcing the death of cookies and the ways you can advertise to your shoppers. Agencies will tell you that the only way to advertise now is through their ultra-secret technology tools. But how will retailers learn to do marketing in a cookieless world? It sounds clever but it’s not actually true. All of these changes to cookies only apply to third-party cookies.
It’s all about how you’ll collect data about your shoppers. And to keep your panic at bay. Retailers who rely on third-party data from cookies in order to advertise will need to navigate this challenge creatively.
In the same blog post from Google in March 2021, the team shows results from their research,
“Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing, and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers. In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.”
One Marketing Company’s Opinion
Agile retailers who get innovative can look beyond the third-party cookie and find better ways to attract customers. Because privacy concerns will continue to lock down the invasive and unwanted advertising targeting. There is a seedy underbelly of advertising that too many are reliant upon. In an article from Hubspot about third-party cookies, we found the most impactful tip for retailers navigating this change:
“Although this move does cause concern, Google and other browsers have still taken a stand for user privacy. As privacy laws continue to arise, this might be a great opportunity to look at other less-vulnerable advertising alternatives just incase another governance renders one of your marketing tactics or processes as obsolete.
Why? As a marketer with an innovative mindset, you should always be asking yourself questions like, “Are we too reliant on this technology?” or “What happens if and when our strategy gets regulated?” Innovative marketers will be able to come up with more clever alternatives and ads that identify with the masses — aside from just hyper-targeted content or annoying pop-ups.”
From MicroD’s perspective, we’ve been talking with experts internally on their opinion of marketing without cookies. Director of Customer Digital Marketing, Nathaniel Smathers states,
“It’s like if you think a cake (A cookie cake is appropriate in this analogy) can only be a birthday cake if it has candles. While sure the candles make it festive, the cake is what you eat on your birthday. To transition from a 3rd-party cookie-dependent strategy, you should think about leveraging data from other available sources to build a delicious “Cake” of user data. You do not need cookies to track Customer info from past sales, Google Analytics, Call data, etc.I want to have candles on my birthday cake but if I have to decide between cake or no cake because there will be no candles, guess what I will pick?In the 3rd party cookie-free world, we need to rely on developing a people-based but identity-agnostic strategy using data from multiple sources.”
Optimizing existing marketing channels
We hope you’re feeling more confident in the future of marketing without third-party cookies. This shift opens the door to a more personalized and comprehensive use of other traditional and diverse marketing channels. Bonus: it doesn’t rely on third-party cookies. But if you’re still looking for details and strategy, here is a recommendation from marketers with experience in home furnishings.
Rebuild Your Targeting Strategy
Third-party cookies are the core pillar for hyper-focused targeting. There are other means of doing personalized targeting but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t on the chopping block for privacy issues down the road. Like the quote from Hubspot mentions, it’s time to get creative about your targeting. When this technology rose to prominence, retailers were reluctant to use it. Now, are we saying retailers can’t do business without it? No.
Third-party cookies may help you identify how many shoppers are most likely to buy your discounted sofa based on the websites they went to over the last week looking for discount sofas. But that’s the kind of targeting we’ll see phase out more and more. It’s time to rethink your targeting strategy. Going broader with your marketing and advertising may have a cost impact at first. But as you set new goals to drive more website traffic, you can use the next tip to start reducing the cost to acquire a customer.
Enhance Your Email marketing
Email marketing has always been a powerful channel to engage customers independently from third-party cookies. It offers the possibility of sending personalized information to users based on their behavior on your site, such as abandoning carts. It’s also great to inform about special sales, promotions and discounts as a mass communication tool. Emails usually have great CTRs and are fairly easy to configure and use.
While there are privacy challenges in email, namely the EU GDPR compliance that could impact your strategy. There are many benefits to creating educational, engaging, and product-driven emails for your subscribers. The strategy change here is getting more subscribers. Retailers will need to use their social media, website, and in-store channels to get more subscribers to sign up for emails. By creating an active method for collecting shopper data (email addresses), you are in control of how you reach the customer without cookies. Leaving you in a better place with a bigger audience known over time.
Need More Traffic? Write More Content
Content marketing generates traffic, leads, and building audiences through the creation of valuable content. It’s an oldie but a goodie of the digital marketing strategy, and nowadays a must-have for any brand or business. The focus of content marketing is to draw the consumers’ attention, making them visit your site and finally engaging with them without any rule of third-party cookies.
Any retailer looking for a way to generate traffic around their website will invest in content marketing. Strategies that include local content marketing pieces will help the market-driven retailers bring local shoppers to the website reading content.
But content marketing isn’t just the broad spectrum articles about which performance fabric is best for family home sofas. It’s about creating content that people want to give you something to read. Create video content from your design team that people need to register to watch. Create intrigue in your email collection by giving the shoppers something to learn or engage with after they give you their information.
The goal is to create spaces where shoppers will give you their information willingly on your website.
Create a multichannel marketing strategy
All the mentioned tools have greater power if combined in a seamless multichannel marketing strategy. It’s a practice where interaction between brands and customers take place throughout different communication platforms. Reaching out to users through a variety of channels increases the opportunities of engaging with them.
A correct combination of different tools will allow you to connect with your customers on a deeper level. With what’s happening to third-party cookies, you have to be present where they are, and the best way to reach them is designing different messages that adapt to both the characteristics of each marketing channel and your consumer’s needs.
Combine emails, web push notifications, and any content marketing that fits to increase brand awareness.
Finding Your Marketing Balance
People are seeking a balance between privacy and personalization. So, an internet without third-party cookies might be what’s missing from the equation. Users want to receive suggestions about services or products they might like, but they also want to have a say on how and why these messages reach them.
Retailers have to focus on being genuine and building trust with their customers. Give your shoppers a reason to give you their information. To prepare for the final elimination of third-party cookies, focus on giving consumer privacy the importance it deserves, as well as creating well-rounded marketing strategies to deliver relevant messages.
At MicroD, we’re ready to help you navigate marketing shifts with our industry experts, and better ready you for what’s happening to third-party cookies.