Are Cookies Good or Bad for Your eCommerce Health?


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Cookie Monster has gone on a diet and, when it comes to Internet cookies, so has much of your audience. Every site we visit today comes with a notification about cookies and many times we now have to opt-in. It’s a little confusing and is causing some eCommerce stores to think about dropping cookies from their sites.

Don’t do it.

Cookies are a vital and healthy part of a successful online store and a smart path to growing your customer base. Here’s the low-down on the sometimes snack that should be a permanent part of your eCommerce diet.

What Are Cookies, Exactly?

Cookies are small text files that are stored by a visitor’s web browser in their directory or data folders. They store information, which can be encrypted, that is relevant to a website or web service. Sometimes a cookie can contain login credentials, so you don’t need to re-enter your username and password. Other cookies may store an identifier about you for the purpose of showing relevant information.

Today, eCommerce stores often use cookies to help provide customized shopping experiences, from advertising to showing preferred products or even seeking out customers who have abandoned shopping carts.

That range of benefits comes from two major types of cookies:

1. Session Cookies: These cookies stay on a browser and keep information until the browser closes. They don’t persist so that the website would treat this person as a new visitor each time.

2. Persistent Cookies: Cookies with a lifespan that lasts until a predetermined time or until they are cleared, usually with browser cache. These persist after a browser is closed and are often tied to things like login credentials, shopping carts, and more.

When a customer visits your eCommerce store, your site can record their activity and place related information in the cookie and put that in their browser. Based on the cookie type and your website’s information, a variety of information and action can be tied to this cookie.

How Can Cookies Be Important?

For eCommerce, cookies are often about knowing your user and gaining insight into your customers. Cookies can track activity as someone moves between pages and products, see what they click on, check their cart and much more.

Cookies allow you to track a variety of information safely as well. For example, you don’t have to store a customer’s Zip code on your website or in your database but instead can use a cookie. Then, when they visit your site, you can display local information based on the data that is stored in the cookie on the visitor’s machine. Your site is reacting to the data that the cookie provides.

This gives you the ability to personalize content without keeping (and potentially losing or facing theft of) many types of visitor details. It can also power a variety of marketing and social media content.

Which Cookie Uses Make Sense for eCommerce?

There are a few different eCommerce options for cookies that just plain make sense. They’re typically unobtrusive and are built to help users get a better experience. These will impact activities on your website as well as the ads they see on other websites.

Here are a few of the options that you should consider for your site’s cookies:

– Storing log-in information: This allows you to give benefits, coupons, and more to your customers without consistently asking them to log into their accounts. It’s a must-have if you want to use a loyalty program that can give gains.

– Shopping carts: For eCommerce sites, perhaps the earliest and most common use was to generate shopping carts. The cookie stores the information locally, which allows shopping carts to work for everyone. You don’t need to force people to log in to a website or do any other data, as their choices are stored already. This is likely already built into whatever system you’re using for your eCommerce platform and should not cause any concern for you or your customers.

Retargeting campaigns: You can use a cookie to determine if someone has visited your site but not made a purchase, or if they’ve made a purchase and you would like them to make another. Some tools also support a very important type of retargeting that supports delivering ads to users who have abandoned shopping carts to encourage them to return to your store and finish the process. This is a great way to improve conversions and even land an up-sell, though requires you to work through a platform such as AdWords to reach them.

Those are the three most-common cookie techniques for ecommerce and they’re a smart way to get started. If you’re currently running these efforts or want to start them and more at once, you do have some more advanced options available. Making the most of these will require you to look at your business across the long-term, not just your next sale.

Advanced Cookies for eCommerce

Unleashing the full power of the cookie starts with understanding personalized campaigns and efforts you can perform on your site and elsewhere. Cookies store information on each individual browser that you can use for individualized efforts as well as broader analytics tracking that can help you guide overall efforts to make things like sales and personalization more effective.

Personalized ads improve conversion rates and retargeting thanks to cookies allows you to create dynamic ads that can double your click-through rate and cut cost-per acquisition in half compared to standard static ads. These cookies allow you to learn about a customer with information around age, location, browsing habits, and much more. Your campaigns can adapt and put your best foot forward for potential customers.

Personalization can build on the retargeting mentioned above — especially when it comes to reminding someone about a full shopping cart — but it’ll also help you test messaging. For instance, if you’ve got a specific pair of sunglasses that are put in carts that tend to get abandoned, tracking cookies can help you A/B test messages that either provide a deeper discount on the sunglasses or promote an alternative.
Cookie data helps you test this a little further in a variety of ways that might work better for your shop. If your cookies track user names or email address information, you could offer a discount that applies to “Every Steve” or “Every Gmail user.” Robust cookie usage would even allow you to segment those offers only to people who have the sunglasses we just mentioned but didn’t get a message that promoted a different pair.

The data that these cookies rely on and track as users perform different actions can give you significant options for analyzing your customers. Basic cookie analytics can do things like track referral sources, session times, unique users, and the number of previous visits — Google has a good dive into analytics options and techniques here.

There are many more ID-related tools that can help you find our characteristics of your customers via their habits. Or, you can go the other way and perform analysis on a large set of customers based on the cookies placed and actions those customer perform. This might tell you that calling people by their first name in retargeting ads led to lower conversions, but ads that included coupons and went to a specific landing page for that coupon performed well. There’s plenty of data to splice here.

Cookies can do a lot, and they’re a smart part of any advertising and website management for eCommerce stores. However, there’s one last thing to note before you jump in and start improving those conversion rates: GDPR.

What About GDPR and Privacy Concerns?

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is important to learn about for anyone who is selling to customers in Europe. This sets out rules for how you must manage or forget data for European residents — it applies to all companies that offer products to customers in Europe, even if you’re not based in Europe.

The most basic element is that you should get consent from users before setting cookies and collecting their data. You must have a notification that is clearly visible and easy to read that shows that you use cookies. Ensure it comes with a click-through to a page that explains any information you collect, why you need it, and everything it is used for by your company.

And, you must give people a chance to agree and to opt out of any cookies. Consent needs to be affirmative, so you cannot have cookie menu pop-ups pre-clicked!

To make your customers more likely to agree to allow cookies, you’ll want a clean and clear policy. Speaking in plain language about what information you track and use, and why, will help you build trust with users. If you write this out in terms of their benefit — we capture your location in cookies to make our shipping estimates as accurate as possible — then your customer can see a reason to allow you to place these cookies.

The more honest you can be about the purpose of the cookies and their benefit — which means actually using them to improve the customer experience — the better off your business will be and less likely that policies or cookie usage will scare people away from your shopping cart.

Consent is always important, and it’ll give you a great bearing for your cookies. Plus, it’ll also give you a good mantra to follow for all of the ways you look at and manage customer data.

Elijah Masek-Kelly
Elijah Masek-Kellly is the Managing Director of Powerful Outreach, which is a PR service that helps clients get exposure through innovative and strategic outreach. With a long history as a writer and content marketer, Elijah is focused on helping small businesses develop their brand, increase their influence, and generate leads by leveraging his skills and knowledge to tap into new audiences.


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