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Why the Death of Third-Party Cookies Has Permanently Changed Cross-Domain Tracking & Retargeting

Seen an online buyer abandon your shopping cart recently? Maybe they looked at a few different products without purchasing, or skipped across your domains before leaving for good.

Published by James Rice Mcaulay23.06.2021

Chances are you already know what happens next: follow-up advertising for the products those buyers left behind.

Known as retargeting, it’s standard operating procedure for e-commerce brands - but not for long. Along with its closely related cousin, cross-domain tracking, retargeting is about to go through a massive shift: Google’s plan to phase out the use of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser.

Scheduled for 2022, it’s a change that’s left plenty of e-commerce brands sweating.

But the end of cross-domain tracking doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

In fact, the death of third-party cookies opens up opportunities for brands to concentrate on a different kind of engagement: building personalized interactions and one-on-one relationships with buyers on your own website - something that retargeting and cross-domain tracking have never truly encouraged.

This is the time to turn and face your visitors.

Get to know them, engage with them and build one-on-one relationships while they’re already on your website instead of spending to get them back. When you shift your mindset to this approach, you end your reliance on retargeting, as well as enable a direct path to happier customers and more revenue for your business.

Ready to learn how to transform the death of third party cookies into your unique advantage? Then keep reading!

How does cross-domain tracking with third-party cookies work?

To start, let’s go over how cross-domain tracking works, so that you can better understand how to use it for your benefit. Typically it takes place using two methods: Google Tag Manager and with third-party cookies. For our current context, we’ll focus specifically on third-party cookies.

Cross-domain tracking with third-party cookies

The most common form of cross-domain tracking relies on third-party cookies.

Using small text files set by a third-party server (like ad tech), third-party cookies allow advertisers to track users across connected domains and throughout the internet, collecting data that’s then accessible to each of the websites that they visit.

In the case of cross-domain tracking, this gives you a clearer idea of who your customer is and what they’re looking for even as they travel across your domains - all with the goal of enticing them to re-enter your sales funnel. Once visitors leave your website, third-party cookies allow you to show ads for the products and services they’ve looked at across their customer journey to encourage them to finalize their purchase.

With this methodology set to change due to the end of third-party cookies, the marketing opportunity for you lies within a mindset shift to walk away from a reliance on cross-domain tracking. By having a stronger focus on building customer loyalty and incentivizing direct website conversions, it’s a much better path to business sustainability - even as the external tech world changes.

How do the latest Google Chrome third-party cookies policy changes work?

This change in third-party cookies is heavily related to growing concerns about customer data privacy. According to Pew Research, 72% of people feel that almost everything they do online is being tracked, with 81% saying that the potential risks of online data collection outweigh the benefits.

But privacy issues aren’t the only problem users have with how third-party cookies are used: while retargeting has proven effective for many brands, it does little to encourage customer loyalty.

In fact, watching an ad follow you from site to site as you move around online can have exactly the opposite effect: an ad shown five times actually becomes annoying and intrusive. And when shown 10 times, that annoyance turns to anger. What’s worse, 55% of buyers put off purchasing after repeated online ad views.

It’s no surprise that popular browsers have reacted accordingly. Before Google announced its decision to phase third-party cookies out, Apple and Firefox made similar announcements of their own by blocking third-party cookies by default. But since Google Chrome is used by more than 60% of global users, it’s the 2022 deadline that promises to make third-party cookies obsolete.

When you choose to embrace the shift, you have a clear opportunity: instead of leaving buyers annoyed and angry, create positive feelings by building customer loyalty and encouraging direct website conversions.

Will the new policies affect first-party cookies?

Only third-party cookies will be affected by Google’s phasing out, because first-party cookies don’t come with the same privacy concerns.

To understand why, consider first-party cookies versus third-party cookies as an example. While third-party cookies are set by a third-party server and gather user data across the internet, first-party cookies are set by your own web server and are used only on a specific domain. For example, first-party cookies enable visitors to collect multiple purchases in their cart or stay signed in through multiple visits.

Overall, first-party cookies create a more seamless website experience and they’ll continue to do so long after 2022. As such, first-party cookies are one of the major tools that e-commerce brands can turn to to help build their relationships with buyers once third-party cookies are phased out.

Does cookieless retargeting exist?

While Google has no plans to replace third-party cookies with alternative identifiers designed to track individuals in the same way, retargeting without third-party cookies isn’t impossible either. You can use tools like Google Privacy Sandbox and Facebook Pixel in this case.

What does the death of third-party cookies mean for online retailers?

While the end of third-party cookies means brands won’t be able to retarget or track across domains in the same way they have before, alternatives exist beyond retargeting and tracking that can help you build your e-commerce brand and achieve your revenue goals - all without the need for third-party cookies or any kind of replacement at all.

That’s where the techniques and tools that build onsite customer engagement and customer loyalty come in. By creating a more personalized experience that caters to your visitors’ needs, you enable a one-to-one relationship between you and your customer. Gone are the annoyed or angry buyers. Instead, you welcome satisfied customers who keep coming back for more.

So have no fear! Google doesn’t hold the power - you do!

4 ways retailers benefit from the end of 3rd party cookies

Fun fact: loyal customers spend more, with returning visitors adding 65% more items to their carts than first-time visitors and spending 16% more per transaction. But 91% of unsatisfied customers will not come back for a repeat purchase.

The path going forward is simple: if you keep your customers happy, retargeting already becomes a thing of the past.

With the 2022 deadline fast approaching, how do you prepare for the end of third-party cookies and keep your buyers coming back without targeting or cross-domain tracking? Here are four steps you can already take:

#1 Use onsite messaging that’s relevant to your buyers

Does a visitor look like they’re about to exit your site? Have they become inactive, or are they scrolling without landing anywhere? While only 23% of companies are employing website personalization, customized messaging triggered by user behaviors keeps buyers on your site longer, moving them further along the path to purchasing.

#2 Speak to your buyers directly

Just like a real life shop assistant, chatbots and virtual shopping assistants help you create a one-on-one relationship with your customers by quickly answering questions and moving them through the sales funnel - not to mention they also save your customer support team up to 30% on costs.

#3 Personalize your product recommendations

Consumers want a personalized experience with brands. In fact, 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to allow for one - as long as those brands stay transparent in how that data is being used. So get to know your buyers’ onsite habits and provide recommendations that are personally relevant to them. It’s a win-win: you build your upselling and cross-selling potential and satisfy more customers to boost overall conversion rates.

#4 Follow up with an email

The average online shopping cart abandonment rate is almost 70%, yet approximately 72% of buyers will return to complete their purchase within 12 to 24 hours. Cart abandonment emails trigger buyers to return by reminding them of what they’ve left behind and how they don’t want to miss out on the opportunity. It really all comes down to FOMO, the fear of missing out.

While the death of third-party cookies may seem like a crisis for many e-commerce brands, it doesn’t need to be. Retargeting and cross-domain tracking may be standard operating procedures right now, but there’s an opportunity that you can take advantage of already today.

By building new strategies that create strong relationships with your customers directly on your website, you do more than just increase sales: you keep those buyers coming back and extend your revenue opportunities while keeping your customers happy throughout the entire process.

After this, sit back, relax, and just enjoy life without third-party cookies.

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