The future of e-commerce isn’t about personalization, it’s about it.


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If you’re having trouble remembering when ecommerce wasn’t a thing, congratulations. You are normal. Still, the environment is evolving as we speak, and retailers are now building their own ad platforms.

The future of the industry lies in leveraging first-party data within these platforms — without compromising customer privacy — to deliver a more connected consumer experience and improve advertiser returns. But to know where we’re going (and why it’s so impressive), we need to know where we’ve been.

Related: Forget Third-Party Data. You’re already missing out on most of your first-party dates

E-commerce was once the Wild West

If you could step into a time machine and set the controls to the dawn of the dot-com era, you would only glimpse the seeds of modern retail media sprout in the fresh soil of the Internet. Back then, Amazon and PayPal were still babies. Most companies exploring the new digital landscape have been “pure play” like – no physical stores involved. Then, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, physical big-box retailers began creating their own dot-coms. Think of, and

Let’s say you were a brand or seller looking to advertise to pure or large corporations. They were game – for the right price. You would spend thousands of dollars in market development funds (MDF) on things like homepage banners or email blasts. The company would place your logo on their website, and if the stars matched, your sales would increase.

The data inherent in this pay-to-play landscape has been so barren that you’d be lucky to see a tumbleweed in return for your money and partnership. Forget modern marketing tools and metrics like sales return reports, impressions, click-through rate (CTR) or shopping behavior. And without those, good luck tracking your return on investment (ROI) efficiency.

Around 2007 the saloon doors opened. In went programmatic marketing and the Adzinia Media Group (the precursor to Amazon Ads), which allowed sellers and brands to use automated processes to buy ad inventory. But it wasn’t until 2012 that advertisers started getting data from these services. The breakthrough came in 2016 when Amazon, Triad Media Group, Criteo and a few others introduced relevancy guidelines and performance metrics.

Related: The Premium Inventory Opportunity Amid the Retail Media Deluge

Personalization brings some law and order

When big-box companies were finally able to leverage consumer data, things started to get a little more civilized in the Digital Wild West — or more accurately, personalised. The aim was to use consumer data to provide an optimal, tailored experience.

Large retailers have developed tools to drive traffic to their websites and stores using their first-party shopper behavior data. For example, Walmart developed Walmart Connect, while Best Buy used Criteo. Both companies used The Trade Desk for programmatic display advertising. With these tools in hand, advertisers could “buy” online space and get some measure of performance metrics.

The catch? Sales are still closed through the larger retailer. Brands could brand their products with badges or other endorsements from the retailer, but their own branding was about as visible as rocks in a bucket of mud. All traffic went back to retailers’ websites, not brands. In the same way, all of the physical ad sellers bought in those retailers’ brick-and-mortar stores drove consumers straight back to the big-box stores.

Related: The Premium Inventory Opportunity Amid the Retail Media Deluge

Let’s finish taming the city

Today, we’re entering another phase of refinement for advertisers. As laws tracking consumer data evolve to promote privacy, and as opportunities to use third-party tracking are dying, “personalization” is an overused buzzword.

The new approach – which is crucial when you think about the amount of products, brands and distribution channels we see today – is Connection.

Retailers understand they need to work with a larger, more general audience. (Superbowl, anyone?) Well, success means promotional content that focuses on emotional connection. It doesn’t matter who the audience is, only that they can identify with the message and that it awakens affinity for the brand.

This focus on emotions makes a big difference. One study found that clients who had both a positive emotional connection and overall satisfaction with an investment firm were six times more likely to consolidate their wealth with that firm than those who were only satisfied.

Advertisers that combine emotional connections with retailer first-party data will literally change the media landscape.

Amazon, which has tons of data through publisher properties like Twitch and FreeVee (formerly IMDb), is leading the way in this new method. They open their platform to showing ads outside of Amazon website. While you can still direct buyers to complete a sale on Amazon, if you’re like most brands, selling direct to the consumer is probably more profitable than paying a fee. If you sell a product on Amazon and have a website, these can help drive traffic to your dot-com and close the sale there. If you can, you know what? You can now collect email, shipping, and other data from buyers to engage with buyers.

See also: How to Build on Your Digital Marketing Momentum in 2023

Revolutionize the digital skyline

Now imagine being able to hash your own first-party data from your e-commerce site against the retailers’ first-party data. Imagine being able to use it to identify audiences with high affinity for your brand who haven’t pulled the trigger and bought yet. This is the future, evolving into a model that benefits retail media companies, sellers, brands and consumers. The increasing commitment to consumer privacy means relying on this information to offer shoppers security in their transactions.

As retailers prioritize connection over personalization, nothing stands in the way of leveraging first-party data to build stronger, more direct customer relationships—with actionable measurement. First-party data is transforming media and e-commerce, offering a fun, data-driven ride for those willing to capitalize on it.

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