Retailers That Put Privacy First Will Have a Competitive Advantage

As we move into an ever more privacy-centric online world, respecting user data sharing permissions and privacy is more important than ever. As one of the most aggressive privacy proponents among all the big tech companies, Apple has taken matters into its own hands and put decisions in place which protect the privacy of its customers, including last year when it introduced “App Tracking Transparency” in iOS 14 , allowing iPhone users to opt out of being tracked by apps.

But Apple was making privacy-positive moves way before App Tracking Transparency was even a glimmer in Tim Cook’s eye.

Back in 2017, Apple introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) on the Safari browser to limit the aggressive use of third-party (“3P”) cookies by advertisers, ad networks and ad-tech companies to track people’s web browsing behavior. ITP has evolved since its initial release almost five years ago, and now Safari actually blocks all 3P cookies by default.

This move had an effect on affiliate marketing. For a long time affiliate networks relied on 3P cookies on merchant websites in order to capture transaction information and attribute it back to the affiliate so that the affiliate would then receive credit and their revenue share from the referred sale. With ITP, networks could no longer properly capture and attribute sales to affiliates from shoppers using Safari.

This prompted the affiliate networks to quickly respond to Apple’s change by innovating with ITP-compliant tracking designs —specifically, cookie-less tracking.

The evolution of affiliate tracking to ITP-compliant designs was a positive step for the industry as a whole. ITP is a good move because it respects the privacy concerns of customers. Furthermore, the new tracking designs are arguably more reliable and more durable than the “old” 3P cookie-based approach.

Now, the affiliate networks’ new cookie-less tracking methods do require some work to be done by online retailers. Specifically, they need to update the code that reports a sale on their website. Many brands were able to make this change, bringing their desktop and mobile e-commerce sites into compliance.

ITP Compliance Opens New Doors for Growth

These now ITP-compliant retailers have a significant advantage and can realize opportunities for incremental reach and revenue for their programs, and here’s why. Because of the inability to accurately track and attribute referred transactions from non-ITP compliant sites (eg, those with 3P cookies blocked), many affiliates only participate in merchant programs which are ITP-compliant. They — justifiably — want to make sure they get the credit for any referred sales from their audiences.

Not only do ITP-compliant merchants have an advantage by working with affiliate publishers that require ITP compliance, they also have the opportunity to participate in new tactics for reaching prospective buyers.

In fact, a whole new window of opportunities opened in late 2021 when Apple announced the availability of extensions for the mobile Safari browser. As with desktop browser extensions, mobile Safari extensions introduce additional functionality within the browser. Think of extensions as helpful little utilities that don’t require a user to open a separate app or browser window to access specific functionality.

Extensions can be almost anything: Some of the most popular mobile Safari extensions include the 1Password password manager, the Mate inline text translator, and the grammar checker Grammarly.

Cashback/e-commerce rewards Safari extensions for iOS also exist, such as Honey, Rakuten, and *Acorns — and they’re extremely popular. These types of extensions rely on affiliate network tracking and attribution in order to properly credit users with their cashback for e-commerce purchases. But if 3P cookies are blocked, the customer won’t get their cash back, and the affiliate (eg, the publisher of the mobile Safari cashback extension) won’t get credit.

The merchants that are ITP-compliant are able to work with these types of affiliate publishers, whose audience can significantly extend a retailer’s affiliate program reach and drive incremental revenue.

Here are some major affiliate networks that can help you determine one, if your site is already ITP compliant, and, two, if not, how you can update it:

Each network has slightly different approaches so it’s best to contact the affiliate network(s) directly and find out their approach to cookie-less tracking and how your particular tech stack and e-commerce platform can work within the network’s framework to ensure ITP compliance.

It’s clear that retailers that have brought their website into compliance have an extra opportunity to grow their affiliate program by being available to as many quality affiliates as possible. Merchants that don’t update to cookie-less tracking methods will be unable to take advantage of these new, exclusive affiliate opportunities, such as browser extensions. Currently, Safari, Firefox, Brave, and some other browsers block 3P cookies, but with privacy and user tracking continuing to be a hot-button issue, others will soon follow suit. In fact, Chrome is slated to block all 3P cookies starting in 2023.

So, if you haven’t already done so, the time is now to bring your site into compliance and leverage the cookie-less tracking available from affiliate networks.

Ian Miller is head of product for Wildfire Systems, overseeing the company’s white-label cashback product platform and partner integrations.

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