Marketing in a cookie-less world

Kimia Marzban
4 min readOct 10, 2021

tldr; we can’t solve cookie-tracking limitations by creating new ways to track. In this article, I write about a world in which the need for third-party cookies in eCommerce are stamped out by native checkout technology.

The cookie apocalypse is in motion. What does that mean?

Quick terminology (skip if you’re cookie-coherent):

Cookies are small files that websites send to your device to then use to monitor you and remember certain information about you.

Third party cookies are cookies that are set by a website other than the one you are currently on, to track your activities on that site.

The apocalypse began when people started to realise how their data is being transacted amongst corporations, profiled based on their preferences, movements, and purchases. It was around the same time when Zuckerberg and Bezos stopped being viewed solely as innovative entrepreneurs wanting to connect the world, and were put under the political microscope for using and at times abusing the data they collect from their users.


Safari and Firefox were the first to restrict third-party cookies in 2019. The following year, Microsoft Edge began to block third-party cookies by default. If you were an iPhone user as of early 2021, you would have also seen your Apple device asking for your permission for in-app tracking each time you opened an app. Even Google, who makes most of their money from their ad platform, announced that by 2023, Chrome will ban cookies that are used to collect individual user’s browsing history for the purpose of selling ads.

People’s attitudes towards privacy are changing. We’ve seen the rise of ‘private’ browsers such as Brave, DuckDuckGo, and more recently Neeva, built by ex-Google execs who promise not to sell your data to advertisers for a price of $4.95/month (which also begs the question, if companies weren’t able to sell our data, should we still be able to surf the whole web for free? That’s a debate for another day).

Surviving in a cookie-less world

E-commerce is no longer an afterthought for brands, it’s a significant part of their business model. Cookies have always been a staple in the marketing pantry; but “cookie-less is the way the world is moving” — Charlie Calabrese, VP of Operations at Partnerize.

One particular industry being affected is affiliate marketing, which makes up a very meaningful revenue bucket for publishers and advertisers. ​​According to Forrester, more than 20% of most affiliate publishers’ annual revenue came from affiliate marketing. Over 80% of affiliate publishers spend more than 10% of their marketing budget on affiliate programs.

When the infrastructure was built for affiliate marketing (over 25 years ago), privacy was not a concern. However, affiliate programs are now starting to rethink their solutions to cookie-less tracking.

While Javascript has always been the primary solution for affiliate tracking, the industry is moving towards either pixel-based, batch-based, or server-side cookies (API based). A server side integration enables advertisers to store information related to user journeys without storing data on the browser. Impact uses a solution called TrueLink that achieves the same outcome by sending all user interactions directly to the Impact servers. I.e. it pings the Impact server when there is a click and again when there is a conversion. It then compares all the touch points and puts together the complete conversion path.

Affiliate networks are seemingly trying to get around tracking limitations by finding new ways to track. It reminds me of the infamous Henry Ford analogy where he (arguably) said that if he asked people what they wanted before cars were invented, they would have just said faster horses.

Solution: Native checkout

Let’s face it, we can’t get around limitations on tracking by creating new ways to track. The path of least resistance for affiliate publishers is to double down on their first-party identifiers to advertise within their own web environment.

First party data is like gold. However, your conversion data is incomplete if you’re redirecting traffic. Redirection is inefficient because it disrupts the most important piece of the puzzle: conversion, and therefore attribution. The flow is fragmented and there’s a lot of room for error. It obscures the overall conversion makeup that would have led to a purchase.

Native checkout = completing your transaction on a publisher’s site, without getting redirected to the merchant. There aren’t many native checkout solutions that don’t require direct integration with individual merchants. That, alongside the skepticism surrounding anything that’s new, makes it slow to adopt and burdensome to implement.

However, I believe it’s the only solution that publishers need to collectively adopt in order to incubate the entire customer journey within their own web environment. This also means they will have insight to deliver on the promise of personalisation, trigger relevant upsell opportunities, and retarget more effectively. This way, affiliate networks can also shift resources away from finding new tracking solutions, and instead, tackle other innovative challenges.

Alas, another reason why I think Carted’s universal checkout solution will form the infrastructure for publishers, creators, and eCommerce businesses to own the first-party data they can collect to supercharge their user experience. With no individual integration or manual checkout required, it is the only way to revolutionise and scale first-party cookie-tracking for eCommerce businesses and affiliate publishers.

Thank you for reading.

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