Cookies in Ecommerce: What You Need to Know for 2023

February 2, 2023

Rhys Williams

Cookies in Ecommerce What You Need to Know for 2023 cookies ecommerce

While Safari and Firefox already default to blocking third-party cookies (for tracking your store’s visitors), in late July 2022 Google doubled down on their commitment to eventually remove your option to use cookies too.

Phased depreciation for third-party cookies in Chrome is now delayed until 2024, but nonetheless, the move to a cookieless ecommerce world is already well underway.

The shift is ultimately forcing brands and ecommerce marketers/managers to rethink data-collection, personalization, and marketing strategies.

Additionally, regulations like GDPR are being adopted ever more widely, imposing stricter conditions on what customer data websites can gather, store, and share.

So what is the future for your efforts to better understand site visitors? Does the “death” of third-party cookies mean you will have no way of collecting customer data?

Here, we’ll assess the state of play regarding customer data, cookies, and first and third-party data collection.

Some significant changes will affect your ecommerce cookie policy, but with the right first-party data strategy, your brand can ensure you’re data-compliant while forging closer connections with subscribers and customers.

Skip ahead:

As a refresher: What are cookies?

Actual cookies unsplash scaled e1675286866403 cookies ecommerce
Credit: Unsplash

Cookies are small files that sit on a site visitor’s computer or mobile. As a site owner for an online brand or ecommerce store, you use cookies to log users’ preferences and activity across your site, but they can also be used to track browsing habits across multiple sites.

The browsing information collected by cookies can be used to create especially personalized shopping experiences and to deliver highly targeted ads; store visitors may be served up offers that feel ultra-specific to their recent search history.

But not all cookies are created equal. There are several different types, and while some are essential to the smooth running of a website on a visitor’s browser, others can be used to capture extensive personal data. This is why the broader conversation on cookies and personal data privacy has become so significant.

Different types of cookies

Most cookie types aren’t a threat to your customers’ privacy and—generally—all types can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Session cookies: These are temporary and sit on your visitors’ browsers for only as long as someone remains on your site. Session cookies store information needed for a particular browsing session, such as login status or shopping cart contents.
  • Secure cookies: When you need to transmit sensitive information, such as login credentials, secure cookies give you an encrypted way to send data over a HTTPS connection, ensuring the information is not intercepted by a third party.
  • Persistent cookies: These remain on site visitors’ devices after they close their browser. This doesn’t necessarily make them malicious though; they can be used to remember preferences or login information for future visits.
  • Third-party cookies: These are the tracker cookies that follow users around the web and the particular cookie type Google, Apple, and others is clamping down on or outright banning the use of.

First-party and third-party cookies

As privacy laws have tightened and attitudes to data sharing have changed, third-party cookies are now considered to be quite problematic, as their ability to track site visitors for extended periods of time means they can gather lots of information about web users and, even if someone has clicked a ‘consent’ button, they may not be aware of just how much data third-party cookies are gathering on them as they move around the internet.

First-party cookies

First-party cookies are the ones that you set up and run on your own site. They let your store perform essential functions, like maintaining login sessions or storing items in a shopping cart.

They are particularly useful for online brands as you typically use them to :

  • Keep your customer secure during their session.
  • Personalize the customer experience (for example remembering language and layout preferences).
  • Help with your basic site analytics.

As a site owner, you set the first-party cookies for your site, and only you can access them.

Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies are set up by someone other than the site owner and are typically used for tracking and targeted advertising. Many online brands and the marketing/advertising platforms they use employ third-party cookies to better understand their customers by tracking them online. This tracking isn’t restricted to your site, third-party cookies can follow your customers around the internet.

Further, it’s not just you who has access to third-party cookies. They can also be accessed by the company that set them up.

What is cookieless ecommerce?

To keep up with regulations like GDPR and comply with Google’s changing cookie policy, ecommerce sites are having to adapt how they operate. Cookieless ecommerce doesn’t mean that all cookies are banned, just that third-party cookies are being phased out, so you can’t rely on them to track customers’ browsing or purchase history.

It means you can’t:

  • Use cookies to track information about customers’ browsing or buying habits across different websites.
  • Use information from third-party cookies to target advertising or personalize the shopping experience.

For example, you might have been running third-party cookies to create user profiles for customers browsing for winter vacations. These profiles would then have allowed you to serve recommendations for skiing and snowboarding apparel to relevant customer segments. But this will no longer be possible as of mid-2024 in Chrome. For Apple’s Safari (and some other browsers) this type of activity has been blocked since March 2020.

The changes are designed to give more privacy to your shoppers, but it also means that you’ll need to develop a strategy for personalization, marketing, and data analytics that doesn’t involve cookies.

#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Build a Shopify store tailored for visitors<cta-title>Make your store feel unique to visitors by customizing with your first-party data.Start building for free

What changes is Google making to its data policy, exactly?

Over the last few years, Google has been introducing changes to its privacy policy. These changes have gone through a few different iterations, with Google now arriving at a new overall framework it’s calling the Privacy Sandbox.

A key part of this is the planned introduction of Topics API, which puts all websites into a category, or topic, allowing advertisers to target users based on the topics covered by the sites they visit most often.

Topics—as a kind of broad compromise to what you can know about your visitor’s interests—is designed to replace third-party cookies, which will eventually be blocked by default.

As the Sandbox name suggests, detail is still being worked out, and not everyone is happy with the direction. But there are certain things we know for sure.

To future-proof your data strategy. You need to:

  • Abide by GDPR
  • Stop using third-party cookies
  • Be transparent about the data you collect
  • Get consent for gathering first-party data and switch to this as your method of learning more about your audience moving forward

Getting your site to conform to the cookieless future shouldn’t be seen as restrictive. Try to think of the new environment as an opportunity to be creative. Thinking of ways to engage with your customers, and getting them to willingly share information with you about who they are, their preferences, and their habits is an act of personalization in and of itself.

What to outline in your ecommerce cookies policy

There are some specific things you (or your developers) can do to make sure your cookies are compliant with Chrome’s standards, and Google has produced a set of best practices to make sure your cookies don’t track users across sites and fall foul of their guidelines.

But in general, online brands wanting to make sure they’re doing the right thing when it comes to the cookies they use can take a few basic steps:

Transition to use first-party cookies:

Use your own cookies to gather data that’s specific to your site instead of relying on a third party to provide customer information.

Use session cookies

Session cookies, which are deleted when your visitors close their browser, are less intrusive than persistent cookies, which can remain active on a browser for an extended period.

Make sure you get explicit consent

All sites that use cookies and abide by GDPR or operate in the EU already have to get their user’s consent, usually via an ‘accept cookies’ bar so you’ll likely already be doing this. But emphasizing your commitment to this will be an ongoing need for the new data privacy landscape.

MeowMeowTweet cookies popup cookies ecommerce
Credit: Meow Meow Tweet, who make a branding play with their consent bar

Monitor your progress

As this is an evolving picture, you’ll need to keep a close eye on legal and corporate developments and put checks in place to make sure your site is continually up-to-date.

What’s the difference between first and third-party data?

Data Unsplash scaled cookies ecommerce
Credit: Unsplash

First-party data refers to information that is collected directly by brands from their own customers. This can include data that is voluntarily provided by customers, such as contact information or purchase history, as well as data that is automatically collected, such as browsing history or IP address.

Third-party data, on the other hand, refers to information that is collected by a company other than the one that is using it. This data is typically collected by third-party companies, such as data brokers or analytics firms, and then sold or shared with other companies for marketing purposes. In ecommerce, third-party data can include information such as demographics, purchase history, or cross-site browsing behavior.

The importance of first-party data

The key to having a site that provides compelling, personalized experiences in the cookieless future is developing an ecommerce first-party data strategy. If you don’t have one fully worked out yet, don’t worry. Third-party cookies are being gradually phased out, and will only be fully blocked by 2024, so you have time to get your cookies in a row.

But you should start work now. You don’t just need to meet the new requirements, you also need to show customers you’re taking their privacy seriously and not breaching their trust. Ultimately, these changes reflect a desire on the part of site visitors to have more say over how their data is used, stored, and tracked online.

There are several benefits to developing a first-party data strategy:

  • It’s more relevant: As first-party data comes directly from your customers, it’s more specific and relevant. You can develop more sophisticated marketing campaigns and create a more personalized customer experience.
  • It builds trust: If you gather data sensitively and with explicit permission, rather than marketing to your customers with data bought from an external source, they’re more likely to trust your brand.
  • It’s more cost-effective: Collecting first-party data can be less expensive than purchasing data from a third-party provider.
  • It gives you more control: Because you don’t need to liaise with a third party, you have full control over your first-party data, including how it is collected, stored, and used. It means you can be sure you comply with data regulations.
  • It gives you an edge over the competition: Having a wealth of first-party data gives you an advantage in understanding and engaging with your customers.

How can you build a first-party data strategy?

Several first-party data sources will allow you to collect the information you need to deliver the personalized, relevant experiences your customers are used to.

Here are the first-party data inputs you can use in creative ways:


A great way to find out what your customers think about your brand, their preferences, and what they’d like to see done better is to simply ask them! Conducting surveys, running polls, and asking for feedback directly via site content and surveys not only gives you access to highly specific customer information, it also demonstrates to your customers that you value their opinions and want to improve their buying experience.

Shogun Page Builder lets you create forms for visitors to leave their details or have store subscribers opt in for perfect product recommendations based on preferences.

You can whip up store landing pages or quizzes to capture customer information, empowering your marketing teams and strengthening your first-party data strategy.

Naturewise Popup cookies ecommerce
Credit: Naturewise uses a quiz to understand their customers better and offers them a discount to add value.

#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Craft pages for first-party data collection for your store<cta-title>Inspire your customers to opt-in and share their preferences.Start building for free

Site analytics

Even though cookies tracking your customers across sites aren’t going to be allowed anymore, you can still gain a wealth of understanding by analyzing what they do on your site.

Tools like Google Analytics let you track how users interact with your website, showing you which pages they visit, how long they stay, and at what point in the customer journey they bounce from your site.

You’ll still be able to use session cookies to determine:

  • What type of products the visitor is interested in, informing the recommendations you display
  • How long visitors typically stay on your site in a given session. If they’re about to leave your site, you can potentially introduce triggers for special offers or reasons to stay.
  • What items they’ve added to cart, and whether they checkout, so you can gauge where they are in the customer journey and analyze a typical session for informing your site content strategy.

Email marketing

The death of email marketing has been prematurely announced many times. With brands needing to move away from data gathered by cookies, emails are becoming an increasingly important way of engaging with customers and collecting first-party data.

You can collect data from email signups and use markers like open rates and click-throughs to see which segments of customers in your subscriber lists respond best to your messaging and offer tailored offers based on these learned preferences.

Your CRM

You can use the information in your CRM to track customer interactions. Having all this data gathered together in one place gives you an overview of how your customers behave across channels.

Customer service

You can use the interactions with your customer service teams to learn how they use your site and what features or products are causing common problems.

Examples of brands that have built a winning first-party data strategy

So far, we’ve looked at some of the inputs you can use to collect first-party data. To get inspiration on how to put this data into action, here are two brands that have taken their data collection strategy to the next level.

Starbucks’ loyalty program

Starbucks rewards cookies ecommerce
Credit: Starbucks

Starbucks has used its very successful loyalty program to better understand its customers. By having customers opt into the program, the brand then gets first-party collected insights into individual customer preferences tied to a profile, and can subsequently offer more personalized rewards and discounts.

First, customers sign up for the Starbucks Reward program by providing information like their name, email address, and mobile number.

  • After creating a profile tied to their data, customers can earn rewards when they shop at Starbucks through their account.
  • Starbucks can then track their customers’ buying habits: what coffees they buy and where they buy them, how often they visit, and how much they spend per visit.

The company can use this data to create customer segments, which allows them to create more fine-grained personalized experiences, for example offering tailored discounts and rewards based on purchasing behavior.

#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Craft pages for first-party data collection for your store<cta-title>Inspire your customers to opt in and share their preferences.Start building for free

L’Oreal’s virtual try-on

L oreal virtual try on cookies ecommerce
Credit: L’Oreal

L’oreal uses augmented reality technology on its website and in its app to let its customers ‘try on’ different makeup and beauty products. Customers sign up for the service and can then see a real-time image of themselves with their make-up of choice superimposed onto their face.

As part of a wider commitment to first-party data and personalization through tech, L’Oreal can use its virtual try-on feature to gather first-party data in a few different ways:

  • User engagement: By giving customers the ability to try on different virtual looks, L’Oreal can see which styles customers prefer. They can use this data to deliver marketing messaging that’s more relevant to their customers.
  • Product usage: The instant nature of the virtual try-on means L’Oreal has a great window into which makeup gets used the most. It gives them a snapshot of which products, or combinations of products, are most popular.
  • Demographic data: By matching customers’ usage of virtual try-on with demographic data points, L’Oreal can also see which products and styles are most popular with certain customer groups, getting valuable information about trends based on location, age, season, etc.

Build a site that gets customers to commit

If you’re looking for ways to collect first-party data, you need a unique site that leaves customers hungry for more engagement with your brand.

Shogun Page Builder offers you the ability to quickly add forms and re-usable blocks, ideal for first-party data strategies. But it also gives you an intuitive, no code way to customize your Shopify or BigCommerce store, helping you go beyond standard themes and realize your brand’s vision.

#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Craft pages for first-party data collection for your store<cta-title>Inspire your customers to opt in and share their preferences.Start building for free

Rhys Williams

Rhys is a writer specializing in enterprise software, ecommerce, and SaaS. He describes himself as a geek and a wordsmith and relishes making complex, technical topics come to life in easy-to-understand web copy.

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