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GUEST COMMENT As cookies crumble: Why now is the time for retailers to focus on first-party data

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The age of the cookie is over. The time of first-party data has come.

In June Google confirmed that, by the end of 2023, its Chrome browser will no longer support third-party cookies. The search engine giant had previously suggested that 2022 would spell the end for cookies, but the deadline was extended so as to give the industry the time to catch up and comply.

Additionally, Google has announced that it won’t be building any alternative form of identifier that will enable customer tracking across sites, something which is liable to result in many businesses breaking out in a cold sweat: the latest in our recent report found that 75% of ecommerce marketing professionals admit to being ‘reliant’ on third-party cookies.

With only around 18 months remaining on the cookie countdown clock, brands need to move swiftly to reduce their reliance on third-party cookies and adapt their acquisition strategies to make them as sustainable, future-proof and cost-efficient as possible.

Too many cookies spoil the broth

Third-party cookies have been—and indeed continue to be—central to many retailers’ digital strategies.  Cookies give brands an incredible insight into the behaviours of consumers, tracking users across websites and allowing platforms that host advertising—Facebook, for example—to target visitors with content directly related to search histories. 

For advertisers and marketers, this can be powerful. Cookies give retailers the ability to put their products in front of users that are liable to show a degree of interest, even if they’ve never previously interacted with the brand in question, yet they also have limitations: though useful, they’re far from the perfect marketing solution.

We’ve all, at some point, found ourselves being targeted by brands trying to flog a product that we’ve already bought, or one that we browsed briefly weeks ago, and subsequently decided is not for us. Thanks, cookies.

Plus, cookie-dependent paid media platforms are notoriously prone to bid pricing volatility – sometimes making it difficult to keep a grip on CPA and ROAS efficiency: not ideal when it comes to budgeting or managing spend.

Of course, with cookies now on the way out, the landscape is set to change. Third-party data won’t give brands the same ability to reach audiences, meaning they’ll have to adapt and evolve their approach to marketing, advertising and interacting with customers. 

The future looks set to belong to brands that prioritise collecting first-party data over using cookies, who understand how to use their owned channels effectively, and ultimately look to give the consumer a more personalised experience.

Owning an audience, not renting one

When brands make use of third-party data, they are essentially renting an audience for a set period. An owned audience, on the other hand, is all about the long-term. Using owned channels is cost-effective because your audience already exists, and they’re already interested in what you do. Owned audiences are the ideal way to maximise customer lifetime value and loyalty, giving brands the opportunity to build and develop robust relationships with their key target audience.

By capturing first-party data such as email addresses and phone numbers from consumers who genuinely care about a brand and want to be engaged with, retailers can not only guarantee communications will be appreciated, but they can begin the process of treating consumers as individuals, presenting them with curated content they’ll appreciate.

An unsavoury trend

While brands are always going to rely on some form of paid advertising, it has recently become clear that, even with the best will in the world, this approach has its risks.

A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that a number of high-profile brands have, since the outbreak of Covid-19, inadvertently posted ads on websites dedicated to pushing Covid misinformation. This is every brand’s worst nightmare, and is an unintended consequence of cookie prevalence, and an over-reliance on biddable media. 

Work is already underway to ensure brands’ ads don’t become associated with causes or organisations that are contentious, and hopefully the issue will be resolved quickly, but these instances have given many brands cause to consider using alternative methods, and encouraged them to place additional focus on one-to-one marketing.

Personalised customer experiences

Increasingly, consumers want brands to liaise with them in a manner that is direct, bespoke and relevant. They don’t want batch and blast messages; they want brands to understand what they want, what they don’t, and tailor all communications accordingly.

Research carried out by Wunderkind has found that almost half of consumers (49%) would be less likely to commit to a purchase if brand interactions were impersonal. Almost the same number (51%) said that, during the last year, they have been subjected to an increased level of email marketing that was either impersonal or irrelevant, which shows that there is a significant chasm separating what consumers want, and what brands are providing. 

A recent study by Infosys which assessed the views of 1,000 consumers found that 86% are adamant personalisation has an influence on what they purchase, while almost one-third (31%) said they want brands to make a point of prioritising more personalised engagement methods. 

By focusing on the opportunities provided by personalisation, and by realising the long-term benefits of attaining first-party data and growing owned audiences, brands will find themselves in position to enhance the quality of customer interactions, which will in turn enable them to improve conversion rates and increase revenues. 

The clock is ticking

Despite many ecommerce teams and marketers admitting that they currently rely on third-party cookies, it appears that brands are aware of the need to overhaul how they reach and engage with their audiences. The vast majority (71%) of ecommerce professionals who responded to a recent Wunderkind survey confirmed that they believe personalisation will become more important in the next five years, with 59% stating that they will invest in personalisation over the coming 24 months. 

However, while these results show that many retailers are heading in the right direction, some are yet to fully realise the positive impact personalisation could have. The clock is ticking, and the brands that get to grips with obtaining and effectively harnessing first-party data now will be best placed to reap the rewards. 


Jon Halley, Executive Director at Wunderkind

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