While 2023 might seem far away, the reality is that retailers have less than two years to prepare for the end of the third-party cookie.

The advantage of time has been placed firmly back in retailers’ hands thanks to Google delaying the move from early 2022. But now’s not the moment to breathe a sigh of relief, keep calm and carry on. 

The third-party cookie party is over. Brands need to start diversifying and futureproofing their data strategies, or risk being caught short when Google pulls the plug.

Not all brands are ready for a first-party data world

For over a decade, retailers have relied on the big tech players including Facebook, Google and most recently TikTok to identify, target and engage with audiences. Until now there has never been a compelling reason not to use third-party audience data. It worked well, was cheap and easily available. As a result, many brands today own very little – or even any – first-party data about prospective future customers.  

Data is going to be the new property bubble

Google’s own trials in Germany suggest display yields for publishers will reduce by 52% following the demise of the third-party cookie, which means there’s going to be a “land-grab” for data to improve ad effectiveness. Brands of all shapes and sizes across the world will be looking to amass data and demand will soar. Search and social prices will increase, and marketers will need to allocate more budget just to keep up.

Brands must diversify and go deeper, reconsidering entire marketing strategies, data collection methods and monetisation models if they don’t want to end up scrambling to survive when third-party cookies are deactivated.

Introducing a model that enables the consent-based collection of first-party data has the power to build audiences at scale and empower retailers to better engage with, and monetise, customers. But brands are going to have to work hard to encourage consumers to hand over their data – and then be smarter about how they maximise its value.

Email – the forgotten foundation of a first-party data strategy

There is a very simple, yet powerful, way for retailers to diversify their mode of marketing, becoming self-sufficient in the process. That is by building – or in many cases rebuilding – their own email databases.

While email might seem “basic” or a “step back in time” in the era of advanced digital marketing, the reality is that the scale and reach of email remains unbeatable. Email has nearly three times as many user accounts as Facebook and Twitter and its value is rising as we head towards a cookie-less world.

Adore Beauty’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dan Ferguson, says email never went away, in fact, it’s been key to the success of the beauty retail juggernaut. He’s seen significant base growth and that’s not just shoppers but potential customers who have ‘walked into the shop’ and are browsing. The team then takes them on a brand journey with the goal of creating loyal customers over time.

Ferguson explains, “Email gives Adore the ability to segment. It provides always-on identification and the ability to collect further customer data. More than that, it provides reach and frequency to an engaged audience for Adore to put its message in front of at any time.”

Here are four reasons to invest in and nurture your owned email database:

  1. Data collection through consent

When a customer gives a retailer their email – be that to access a discount, receive an e-receipt or join a loyalty programme – a high value digital transaction takes place. They have opted in and are engaged with the brand. The key to building this consent-based data into connection and trust is compliant storage and the delivery of meaningful content. Once you have acquired your valuable first-party data, respect it and it will deliver returns for the business time and time again.  

2. Unlocking information about your customers

Collecting emails is only one part of the puzzle.

The true value of a committed email strategy is being able to build an open relationship directly with your customers, rather than having it controlled by a Facebook, Google or TikTok algorithm. This new freedom affords brands the opportunity to understand customers, analyse behaviour and glean insights relating to purchases, loyalty and future intent.

3. Evergreen emails

When was the last time you saved a display or social ad to read later? In contrast, customers will often keep emails in their inbox to revisit, which can be accessed at any time on a range of one-on-one devices. This level of personal engagement simply can’t be achieved with ads on screens, websites, or social media.

4. Open rates that speak for themselves

And finally, there’s the undeniable performance element. According to Mailchimp’s latest 2021 statistics, the average open rate on retailers’ marketing emails is 18%. This is compared to average banner ad click-through rates of under 1%.

In the era of ultra-personalisation, and with every retailer looking to build deeper customer engagement, the benefits of a strong email marketing program are clear to see. Retailers that invest in nurturing their email database now will own a robust and high performing first-party data model that others will be scrambling to achieve as the third-party cookie clock continues to count down.  

Marcelo Ulvert is CEO of WINR.