Ecommerce internet cookies have been sweet for online retailers, advertisers and ad firms. But treat time might be over. Cookies help marketers find and keep customers by knowing their preferences, and they tell marketers with precision whether an ad campaign is working. But a growing array of privacy advocates, legislators and regulators find cookies leave a distinctly sour taste. 


With growing calls for consumer privacy on the web, Google parent company Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc. plan or already have made major changes to customer tracking. Apple now requires user opt-in for apps to track users, and Google is getting rid of third-party cookies on its market-leading Chrome browser. While these changes hearten privacy advocates, they’re likely to disrupt online retailers’ longstanding marketing practices. Without accurate consumer tracking, merchants are worried that a portion of their ads will be less effective at driving sales. In response, merchants plan to shift their marketing dollars to other channels that are more predictable at driving revenue.  


Online cookies are small pieces of text websites placed on a site visitor’s browser to track preferences, such as language, to know what consumers are interested in, and facilitate other functions. More companies started using cookies in late 1995 after Microsoft Corp. integrated them into its Internet Explorer browser. There are many different types of cookies, but third-party cookies are controversial because advertisers, marketers and data-analytics firms place them on consumers’ devices to know where a consumer’s been on the web, leading to more targeted ads. 


“It’s going to be a new age for marketers,” says Nick Leyland, digital marketing manager at Canberra Corp., a manufacturer of cleaning chemicals and supplies. Canberra sells to consumers online at and sells to businesses with its Husky brand. The brand uses a variety of marketing channels, including digital ads that rely on cookies to target consumers.  


To replace the revenue they might have received with targeted ads on the Google and Apple platforms, retailers could ramp up their email marketing and use other customer-targeting software, according to results from Digital Commerce 360’s seventh-annual retail marketing survey of 143 online retailers released in June.  


The top answer, with 46.5% of retailers choosing it, was that they would try new ways to encourage consumers to sign up for emails, in response to how they would respond to Apple and Google’s new policies. Retailers could choose more than one answer.  

To get immediate access to the rest of this article, sign up for a free Strategy Membership using the Join for Free button below. If you’re already a member, please sign in.

Want to read more? Unlock Free Strategy Membership