What iOS Privacy Changes Mean for E-Commerce Marketers

ios privacy
Published on
Sep 13, 2021
Written by
Mike Greene
Mike is a Senior Product Marketing Manager. He spends his logged off hours adventuring with his dog and exploring his newly found interest in red wine.
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Owned, first-party channels like SMS will become more important than ever as a result of Apple’s privacy changes and Google’s roadmap to eliminate third-party cookies.

With the recent changes made to Facebook Advertising by iOS 14.5, the upcoming data and privacy changes announced for iOS 15, and Google’s roadmap for removing third-party cookies by 2023, marketing as we know it is quickly changing. 

We’re used to having a clear understanding of the full scope of our funnel—from what ads our audience has clicked, to which emails they’ve opened. Soon, both of those data points will be gone. Marketers who relied on this data will need to find other ways to target and personalize the experience. 

So, what’s next, and what do you need to know to adjust to these changes? 

We talked to Sharon Choi, Director of CRM, Retention Strategy, and Analytics at DIFF Eyewear and Maddie Mirzoeff, Product Manager at Attentive, to hear about how the recent iOS updates and Google’s future plans to get rid of cookies will impact your marketing strategy.

What privacy settings are impacted by updates to iOS 14.5 & 15?

In April 2021, Apple rolled out new privacy settings for users as part of their iOS 14.5 update. This new privacy tool, App Tracking Transparency, prompts iPhone and iPad users to opt out of tracking in apps that monitor their behavior and share that data with third parties. 

This gives people more control over their mobile app data—and how it’s used by companies, like Facebook and Google, to target ads. An estimated 96% of Apple users decided to disable tracking once the feature was available. Since then, marketers have lost visibility into the efficacy of things like their Facebook Ads—no longer being able to reliably attribute clicks to purchases. 

Then in June 2021, Apple announced new privacy settings they’re rolling out in iOS 15. Two of the features that will impact e-commerce marketers are Mail Privacy Protection and Hide My Email.

  • Mail Privacy Protection: Apple Mail will allow users to opt in to mail privacy features that mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking email opens or other IP data. Many marketers relied on open rates as a key metric for understanding who was engaging with their content. Soon, you’ll only be able to track engagement through a user clicking a link in your email. 
  • Hide My Email: Apple users can create a randomized email address when they register with an app or website. Any email sent to those new addresses will be forwarded to a personal email account, but marketers will no longer be able to track users across platforms or access a potential customers’ real email address.

What challenges have you faced with updates to iOS 14.5?

“These Apple/iOS updates are really impacting acquisition. Because we lost visibility into cookies and tracking, our Facebook and Instagram campaigns are showing much lower performance. Cost of acquisition is going up, CPM is going up, and we’re not able to tie all that activity together anymore. We’re basically flying blind from that perspective,” says Sharon Choi, Director of CRM, Retention Strategy, and Analytics at DIFF Eyewear. 

Many brands have experienced similar struggles with the most recent iOS updates. Marketers rely on data, tracking, and visibility to communicate in the personal way consumers have come to expect. Without it, marketers are essentially “flying blind,” causing confusion and inefficiency that’s difficult to navigate.

DIFF Eyewear’s solution was to change their approach to overcome a dip in acquisition performance. “We’ve shifted our focus to retention channels—email and SMS—but we also know the next iOS update is going to impact our visibility into email tracking,” added Choi. 

How will the upcoming iOS 15 updates affect marketers’ ability to measure email marketing performance? 

Right now, marketers are using tracking pixels placed inside emails to understand when someone opens an email. With the new privacy updates coming to iOS, users will have the option to “protect” their mail activity by hiding their IP address.

Consumers who use Apple Mail and opt into the “protection” will make it appear like they opened the email as soon as it’s sent. This makes the open rate data point less reliable for marketers since it’s no longer an accurate representation of who actually opened the email. 

Without open rate data, you’ll need to change the way you think about successful email campaigns. Today, when evaluating an email campaign, you’re likely looking at both open rates and click-through rates.

Low open rates may indicate a poor subject line or send time, while low click-through rates may indicate less relevant content or problems with your call to action. This data helps you understand what parts of your email you need to optimize. But with just one data point, you won’t be able to identify the main issue as easily. 

What key elements are involved in tracking users across the web? How does Google’s “cookieless” future impact this?

The traditional way of tracking users online is through cookies, or a stored string of text. Third-party cookies have been the foundation of digital advertising, allowing marketers to target and track consumers across the web. A company can store the third-party cookie in a user’s browser, which allows them to track the consumers’ actions over repeat visits.

“The benefits of that for e-commerce brands is obvious,” said Maddie Mirzoeff, Product Manager at Attentive. “By tracking the actions of users, brands can see the bigger picture of their customers and their actions—and then personalize that experience through the data collected.” 

It’s relatively easy to understand how many views, clicks, or purchases happen on your brand’s website through first-party cookies. But, you’ll need to do some extra work to understand all of a user’s behavior, especially once third-party cookies go away. To track everything, you need to connect all the actions the user takes—whether they are logged in or not, on mobile or desktop, on Chrome or Safari, or in incognito mode.

This is where the cookie method falls apart, says Mirzoeff. “Any time a shopper uses a different browser or device, clears their cookies, or uses an incognito window, a different cookie will be created. This erases all the historical actions and preferences you’ve collected, and it makes it very difficult to stitch together the different actions from the same person,” Mirzoeff said. “The difficult part of perfecting identity online is knowing how to bridge everything together to create a full profile of a customer. That’s the biggest challenge we’re trying to unlock for our customers, especially in a future cookieless world.”

As Google plans to get rid of third-party cookies by 2023—a move that other browsers such as Safari have already implemented to prioritize user privacy—your brand will face limitations in how you track users and target ads.

This means you’ll be able to see what actions were taken on your ads, but not who took them. This also means that you’ll have to stick to click-based attribution on your ads. As a result, first-party data will become even more important for your brand if you want to understand your shoppers and personalize your messages across channels.

What does online “identity” mean, and why is it important?

The goal of tracking “identity” online is to ensure that all of the actions taken by a single website visitor —along with their attributes, regardless of the source (different browsers, different devices, incognito mode or not)—can be tied back to the same person.

This allows you as a marketer to know exactly who you’re talking to—and then personalize the experience accordingly. It also helps you target the right audiences through segmentation. 

When every action, behavior, and click is accurately tied to the right person, regardless of where, when, or how they did it, you can take personalization to a whole new level.

- Maddie Mirzoeff, Product Manager at Attentive

For example, a shopper adds something to their online cart using their phone, but then they switch to their laptop to actually buy the item. If you can't attribute both events to the same user, you’ll end up sending a cart abandonment message even though the user has already completed their purchase—creating a subpar experience for the shopper.

How do you approach data as a marketer? How are you collecting first-party data?

Marketers have always worked on balancing third-party data (collected from many sources and consists of rich behavioral or demographic data) with first-party data (collected through your owned channels, like email or SMS).

Owned first-party data is generally considered to be more valuable and relevant through its specificity. While third-party data generally has a larger reach than first-party, it provides inferred data based on user behavior vs. information provided explicitly by the user. 

Data is a fundamental part of our strategy. The features Attentive has released over the past year have helped us personalize more than ever within our SMS channel. We’re always looking for more ways to target and personalize. We use all the available data to make our campaigns as specific and personal as possible.

- Sharon Choi, Director of CRM, Retention Strategy, and Analytics at DIFF Eyewear

Marketers should focus on collecting as much information as they can from their own website using properly placed code and sign-up forms. For example, DIFF Eyewear collects first-party data through Attentive’s tools, such as our SMS and email subscriber sign-up forms and conversational text messaging. 

Our foundational element for data collection is what we call the “Attentive Tag,”’ or a pixel placed on your website to collect the actions of site visitors.

“Actions like browsing a product or adding something to the online cart are collected and stored,” shared Mirzoeff. “This is valuable first-party data that marketers can use to send high-value follow up text messages that are personalized (based on behavior) and often result in more purchases.”  

Why should marketers be focusing more on SMS with regard to these upcoming changes?

The new iOS privacy changes prevent marketers from tracking the same consumer across different platforms. Advertising on third-party platforms, like Facebook, is going to become more challenging. Marketers will no longer be able to deliver highly personalized and targeted messages to consumers using third-party data. This is where first-party data comes in. 

Marketers will need to rely on owned, one-to-one communication channels based on first-party data (like SMS and email) if they want to effectively reach their audience.

"From an email standpoint with iOS 15, we’re expecting to face similar challenges as we did with iOS 14 regarding reduced visibility,” said Choi. "That’s mainly why there’s a huge focus for us on building on our SMS channel even more—which for us was outperforming email even before these changes occurred. We want to invest more heavily in our most efficient, best performing channel moving forward."

Learn more about how Attentive is helping e-commerce brands drive revenue, as changes to online privacy and the cookieless future are quickly approaching.

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