How retailers can succeed without cookies this holiday season

Retail marketers have contended with numerous roadblocks in recent months. Just as eCommerce skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19, third-party identifiers (3PIDs) like cookies and Apple’s IDFA began deprecating. The effect made it more difficult for marketers to reach targeted consumers, as well as to confirm when—or if—an engagement was achieved for subsequent measurement and insights.

With the holidays fast approaching, marketers are looking to quickly prove their value within a competitive and overly saturated landscape of “guru’s, ninja’s and rock stars.” To achieve such recognition, marketers will need to be able to reach customers and prospects with the right messaging, in the right channels, at the right time—just like L’Occitane did.

Read on to learn more:

Retailers face several compounding challenges

In January 2020, Google announced it would phase out third-party cookies (3PCs) in Chrome. To further complicate matters, Apple announced they would begin requiring opt-in consent to access their IDFA in April 2021.

These changes limited retail brands’ options for recognizing consumers online, largely because they had relied too heavily on single identifiers (such as third-party cookies) to run their entire identity programs. As a result, many retailers had no choice but to enact “one-size-fits-all” marketing methodologies that were void of personalization at the individual or demographic level.

Concern over identity limitations was further heightened as E-commercewhich has been increasingly gaining popularity over the past decade- was exponentially accelerated by the pandemic. According to the NRF, online sales were up 23.9% year over year for the 2020 holiday season.

eMarketer predicts this digital shift will continue, forecasting that total US holiday retail sales in 2021 will rise 2.7%, while the season's e-commerce sales will rise a whopping 11.3%. This growth will account for 18.9% of the total anticipated holiday retail sales.

As online shopping progresses with an ever-diversified audience, it’s essential for retail brands to perform well in the digital sphere by reaching shoppers across devices, via different platforms, in a privacy-compliant way.

What’s a retail marketer to do as holidays approach?

A robust identity solution, that is built on more than mere cookies and email addresses, has the potential to identify in-market shoppers while delivering substantial business benefits inclusive of improved customer data management and enhanced targeting and personalization.

Likewise, it can provide more accurate measurement by identifying consumers across each brand interaction to help us understand holistic shopping indicators and behaviors.

Reach the right people

The first step marketers must take to achieve this communication nirvana is to organize their internal data. Marketers must be able to isolate a comprehensive view of each customer by matching their identity across channels through the integration of online and offline data.

When retail brands rely too heavily on email address as a sole identifier (81%, according to Forrester Research), marketers are left scrambling to sort through data that is muddied with house-holded accounts (multiple users sharing a single email address), or users with multiple email addresses on file.

Likewise, disproportionate dependency on Device IDs (computers, mobile, tablets, etc.) as the primary identifier can prevent marketers from distinguishing an individual user from all device users, or from viewing the complete consumer journey. Without reconciling these data points to a single person, retailers end up offering irrelevant messaging that is impersonal and redundant for their customers.

Augmenting customer profiles with unique insights around browsing history, demographics, lifestyle, and propensity to purchase create more relevant experiences that are specific to the individual shopper. Distinctive third-party data—that is not rooted in third-party cookies or device IDs—is required to create this enriched profile.

Create relevant experiences

When Unilever launched a data unification project across its 64 portfolio brands last year, customer identity resolution improved five times in just six weeks. When Walgreens used first-party data to power a revamp of its loyalty program, they gained the ability to disburse compelling, geo-targeted, real-time offers that were personalized and highly-relevant.

The key to marketing success is not singularly based on a brand’s ability to collect data, but in their ability to harness it to create continually optimized experiences. Data must be nurtured as a living, breathing life-source to all things communicated.

Helen Lin, chief digital officer at Publicis Groupe, explains:

“There’s a carryover of old ways of planning with ‘buying audiences.’ But now, with identity resolution solutions, you can actually understand mindset, motivation and need-state, and you can continuously super-serve customers with the right information at every stage. This shift is actually going to help brands focus on what’s most important: building the best customer experience regardless of the channel.”

To meet customers where they are, you need to know their point in the customer journey.

Identity helps illuminate all intersecting retail touchpoints as shoppers move from “consideration” to “purchase” phases of disjointed—or even invisible—customer journeys. This data provides distinctive signals as to what brands should deliver next online and, in their stores, to drive repeat business and upsell opportunities.

For example, say a consumer completes an in-store purchase after receiving several ads for smart TVs. The identity program would pull in this offline transaction data to inform the retailer of their next move–which should be to serve up product recommendations complimentary to the TV, such as a sound bar.

Measure and prove success

The holiday season is instrumental to the year-round success of many retailers. As such, a marketer’s ability to drive conversions and engagements (beyond message opens), and to measure and analyze the performance of their campaigns across the consumer lifecycle is essential to the success of the business.

Epsilon’s vice president of product management, Matt Feczko, explains:

“Many marketers focus on reach as the fundamental pain point with third-party cookie deprecation, but ultimately that’s not what the marketer wants—they want better outcomes.”

Identity can help marketers achieve those better outcomes by connecting all points of the customer journey to a single ID. This allows retailers to establish a 360 view of their consumers on a hyper-targeted level.

With better attribution for each touchpoint, marketers can optimize their campaigns by reallocating budget to those that are more successful. Additionally, they avoid inundating their consumers with irrelevant ads that waste resources and irritate shoppers.

L’Occitane nails holiday 2020 with identity resolution

Epsilon client L’Occitane was looking to acquire new, reactivate lapsed and retain existing customers during the 2020 holiday season which they achieve by implementing a robust identity program.

First, they identified online customers that hadn’t completed a purchase in the past 13 months. Then, they used AI models to determine purchase propensities among their customers that they targeted with a personalized message urging them to come back.

Next, the retail brand set their sights on acquiring new customers. L’Occitane’s holiday-themed offerings are always well received, so they identified buyers and prospects with a propensity to purchase holiday-themed products and delivered personalized, offsite ads at the SKU level.

Finally, they focused on customer retention- a topic especially top of mind due to the 2020 pandemic. To send updates on safety improvements and store openings, the brand identified and messaged valuable individuals who lived near selected storefronts.

And thanks to a robust identity program, L’Occitane was able to clearly measure their results:

  • Reached 5.6 million unique lapsed customers, resulting in over $3 million in revenue.
  • Reached 1.9 million individuals with 92 holiday themed SKUs—each SKU saw a return on ad spend (ROAS) of $21:1.
  • Retention efforts across 22 targeted stores delivered 94 million impressions and $760,000 in revenue.

Drive your own 2021 holiday success

Kick your holiday season off right by sending relevant messaging to the right people at the right time. Check out how Epsilon can help your retail brand connect with your customers on a deeper level.