Retailers in Canada Grapple with the End of Cookies in Online Marketing and Ecomm

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Retailers marketing and selling online are having to deal with a situation where cookies are being phased out in web browsers. This is creating a situation requiring creativity to gain consumer insights and personalize offerings, and experts say that it’s not actually bad news. 

Cookies have been a key feature in e-commerce for years, helping gather more data about store visitors and proving a customized shopping experience. That includes such things as product recommendations, retargeting ads and the like. 

Now the elimination of cookies to track consumers is leading to the need for creativity — businesses need to become less dependent on cookies to run optimally as web browsers get rid of cookies altogether. E-commerce store owners are seeing an impact that is affecting the tracking of targeting campaigns, conversion rates and measuring analytics. 

For those unfamiliar, cookies are small text-based files that are used to track user behaviour and preferences. They include first-party cookies (created via site-visit), third-party cookies (such as hitting ‘like’ on a Facebook post) and session cookies, utilized for the duration of one’s visit to a site (and deleted after). There are also ‘zombie cookies’ that present a security threat as they are permanently stored on a device and open to potential hackers. 

Online retailers and marketers have been relying on cookies that collect data to personalize shopping experiences on their websites and run marketing and advertising campaigns. Cookies have been put to extensive use, from displaying product recommendations to running retargeting campaigns to promote interest-oriented products

Now Google has announced that it will stop supporting third-party cookies by the latter half of 2023, throwing a monkey wrench into the efforts of many marketers. Not all is lost however, as there are opportunities to create a more consumer-centric, authentic ways to collect data to fuel the same objectives. 

Jay Wilder

Jay Wilder, Vice President Product Marketing, Marketing Cloud at Salesforce, said in an interview that online marketers will now need to ask for the information directly from consumers in order to gain insights and personalize offers. He said it’s actually preferable to cookies and will help earn consumers’ trust while allowing marketers to learn more about consumer interests, preferences, purchasing behaviours and more in a methodical way that can be used strategically. 

The first-party data collected with customers and prospects is more reliable, he said, as it is more specific to what marketers are looking for than third-party data collected by outside sources. There are various avenues to collect first-party data, including surveys, customer loyalty programs, customer service interactions, and website data. The data can be used to create detailed customer profiles that can be used to segment and target marketing messages, while also tracking customer behaviour over time to identify trends that can help with product launches and business expansion generally. 

Customer data platforms, including that offered by Salesforce, helps unify the first-party data into a single source. This provides a complete 360-degree view of the customer, he said, allowing marketers to create more relevant and personalized experiences for them across all channels. 

Wilder explained that the Salesforce platform, combined with first-party data, allows for a realtime analysis of what consumers are doing, making for more timely decision making based on what the consumer wants. And in the future there will be even more opportunities for companies to break down the silos between marketing, sales and commerce. 

Specifically in terms of suggestions for retailers amid the phasing-out of cookies, Wilder had three suggestions: 

  • Collect first party data as discussed above, 
  • Have marketing and IT work more closely together, and 
  • Leverage investment with the Chief Information Officer in an organization while not competing for budgets, given the importance of the shift to digital. 

He said that marketing and IT departments will be working more closely together as things continue to change, also noting that the Salesforce platform allows retailers and other businesses to bring their own technology into the Salesforce ecosystem in terms of building a proper CRM platform to track first-party data. 

The Benefits of First Party Data 

Salesforce notes that there are benefits of first-party data, and these include:

  • It comes directly from users, with their explicit consent,
  • It comes with contact information and opens up the potential for direct communication, 
  • It comes with the clear understanding that users are interested in your company’s product or services.

Thus businesses get more reliable data that they actually own, rather than relying on third-party ad tech companies. 

Access to rich first-party data enables meaningful consumer personalization. Workflows and campaigns can be aligned with the customers’ journeys, and intelligent recommendations can help provide better offers and prices and meet their real needs.

First-party data is also unique and more standardized, while external entities cannot manipulate it. The uniqueness of the data means a business can use it to find differentiators quicker than its competitors and deliver experiences that consumers will seek and appreciate. 

Recognizing the end of cookies, retailers and other businesses are best to become cookie independent as soon as possible, while improving engagement and personalization with data analytics and prediction tools. 

Salesforce’s Wilder said that making data actionable in real time is made possible by Marketing Cloud Genie. It creates a single view of each customer with actionable, real-time data. This enables marketers to run intelligent and automated campaigns, helps sales teams have more impactful conversations with customers, makes it easier for support teams to respond to issues, and empowers operations teams to run the business with powerful insights.  Ultimately businesses can organize real-time data single source to create a unified customer profile. 

In the end, addressing privacy concerns and regaining customers’ trust is increasingly becoming a priority for many retailers and businesses as cookies are phased out and first-party data is “in”. Improved personalization strategy from marketing efforts will be critical to marketing and advertising online. With that, building the infrastructure necessary to make the shift ahead of time will be critical as we shift into a cookie-less world in the coming months ahead. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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