Jan 24 2024
Eric Nelson

Cookieless Advertising for Retail and E-commerce Marketers


Retail and e-commerce advertisers have long depended on third-party cookies for audience targeting and campaign success attribution. After all, with so many product categories falling under the retail umbrella, and significant variation within each category (size, color, material, etc.), marketers needed a way to target audiences with personalized ads for specific products and to then measure the impact of their efforts.

But with signal loss across the digital advertising ecosystem as a result of increased regulatory action, consumer demand for data privacy, and now the rollout of cookie deprecation in Google Chrome in 2024, retail marketers must shift towards privacy-first advertising strategies for targeting and attribution. Those who adapt by building expertise in cookieless solutions, prioritizing first-party data, and adopting automated targeting and measurement methods will cut to the front of the line when Chrome’s third-party cookie finally crumbles.

But what exactly should those efforts look like? Below, Andrew Barbuto, Senior Agency Lead at Basis Technologies, highlights industry marketers’ top considerations and challenges in a cookieless world, explores potential solutions, and provides examples of cookieless approaches for different types of retail businesses that can lead to retail advertising success.

What are the top considerations for retail and e-commerce advertisers going into the cookieless future?

Andrew Barbuto: I’d say there are two major considerations. The first is targeting. Specifically, I’m talking about the ability to target to serve personalized advertising. It will be challenging without third-party cookies to track interests, behaviors, and habits.

Then there’s the measurement of that advertising. Part of the value proposition in digital advertising has long been the ability to tie an individual impression to an action or an acquisition. Without third-party cookies, that’s going to be a challenge for a couple of reasons. First, view-through conversions will go away completely, which will impact almost everything except the click-through conversions. Second, advertisers will likely up their investments in retail media networks, as they have treasure troves of first-party data that can be used for targeting. However, the ways these networks attribute sales are siloed and not standardized, and the biggest players like Amazon and Walmart don’t have much incentive to share their data. That means that results will be coming in from a variety of sources, which makes it difficult to get a holistic view of campaign performance. Retail advertisers will benefit from considering solutions that tie all of these approaches together—tools like data clean rooms, CRM solutions, CDPs, and click-based conversion attribution systems will be key.

What cookieless marketing solutions are particularly useful for retail and e-commerce advertisers?

AB: Prioritizing the collection and maximization of first-party data will be key to success for retail and e-commerce advertisers. Marketers can collect first-party data through things like promotions and loyalty programs, and then utilize it to create those personalized touchpoints. Customer data platforms (CDPs) are particularly useful for these tasks, as they can organize first-party data for targeting, and help with attribution as well by giving marketers a look into the customer journey and what tactics were most impactful on conversions in a given campaign. Marketers can also use the cookieless analysis of a data management platform like TransUnion for lookalike modeling based on first-party data to grow their addressable audience.

Contextual targeting is another big one for retail and e-commerce. It’s particularly relevant because people are researching products, doing shopper comparisons, and reading reviews on their phones and desktops. To be able to influence them while they’re researching in a contextually relevant environment is well worth the investment.

Next, Connected TV is a great, cookie-free place for retail advertisers to get premium inventory on private marketplaces, and it’s good for awareness all the way down to conversion. Within their creatives, advertising teams can include a QR code, which customers can scan to go to their website. At the same time, they can be running a digital campaign with a similar message to reach audiences while they’re on their desktops or mobile devices consuming shorter-form content.

A few other solutions that come to mind:

  • Retail media networks allow advertisers to market directly on retail websites and apps, using the retailers’ first-party data.
  • Shoppable video and social video lets people directly purchase products without the need for cookies.
  • Loyalty programs that feed into a CRM can incentivize more purchases but also generate a lot of data that can be analyzed and fed into future campaigns.

Could you provide some specific examples for how retail and e-commerce advertisers might approach the cookieless future?

AB: Let’s take a large sporting apparel retailer as the first example. They’d want to consider onboarding first-party CRM data into a CDP like LiveRamp for precise ad targeting that doesn’t require third-party cookies. Based on the data they gather about a given consumer’s shopping behavior, they can advertise to them around the web for repeat purchases, new products, or related accessories, across different channels like video, native, or display, from upper- to lower-funnel ad placements. They could also utilize a DMP like TransUnion, which also doesn’t rely on third-party cookies, to build lookalike models off their CRM data and deploy awareness advertising to obtain new customers. Last, they could send people to their brand website and retarget off that site, or they could direct them to a landing page that promotes sales at a retailer partner like a big box or sporting goods store—but, of course, generating traffic to your own site comes with the added benefit of potentially increasing your CRM pool.

For a retail business that has brick-and-mortar stores, a geotargeted campaign can target people in proximity of their retail locations in a way that’s not cookie-reliant. Then, advertisers can use a footfall attribution partner like Cuebiq to measure physical store visits based on advertising. For a more specific example within this category, let’s take a business that sells diamond products in different luxury diamond stores. Their target customers will do research online, but the majority of that industry’s sales happen in person at their local jewelry store and not online. So, advertisers can target people with a combination of proximity and geotargeting, past website visits, as well as people who have visited a physical jeweler. The business could also switch its KPI from “website visits” to “in-store foot traffic,” which is where sales are more likely to happen and, again, isn’t based on third-party cookies for measurement.

Wrapping Up: Cookieless Advertising for Retail and E-commerce Marketers

Third-party cookies may be going away, but consumers will still become aware of products, visit brand websites and apps, browse options, buy online or in-store, and spread the word about their experience—good or bad. And they’ll still hand over email addresses and join loyalty programs in exchange for discounts, points, and perks.

With all that online behavior, retail and e-commerce advertisers shouldn’t dread the deprecation of the cookie. Contextual targeting, first-party data activation, and making the most of premium inventory on emerging platforms can provide a holiday catalog-sized array of options for cookieless campaign targeting and attribution.

Want to learn more about the state of identity in 2024? We surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals to discover how they’re navigating signal loss, third-party cookie deprecation, and the shift towards privacy-first digital advertising. Check out all the latest data and insights in our in-depth report.

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