One of the things you hear all over the Internet and on this podcast when it comes to eCommerce marketing is to focus on collecting and utilizing zero and first-party data… which sounds great in theory – but the real question is how do we actually do that?
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What is Zero and First-Party Data
First, let’s talk about what zero and first-party data are.
Zero-party data is data that your prospect or customer intentionally and voluntarily shares with you. Some examples of zero-party data would be birthdays you collect, answers to a quiz or survey, and if you have a content or product preference center someone can update, that is all zero-party data.
First Party Data is data that you collect passively based on their behavior. For example, what products they view on your website, what products they buy, what emails they engage with, etc.
Why Do First-Party & Zero-Party, Data Matter?
The first-party data conversation really rose to prominence with the announcement of iOS14 because its claim to fame was giving iOS users the ability to block 3rd party tracking by apps. Essentially, it no longer gives FB and other apps visibility to your browsing activity without your explicit consent. We’re not going to go into all the details about that today, I’ll like you to some other episodes in case you’re not fully versed on what that iOS14 change really meant.. but for the purposes of today’s conversation the most important thing to know is zero and first-party data is really the future and even the now of marketing.
How to Collect First-Party Data
Now that we understand what zero and first-party data are, let’s talk about how to collect them. Now, as mentioned first-party data is the data that you passively collect through customer behavior. And the amount of data and your ability to leverage that data is really based on the power of the technology tools that you use, specifically your CRM or email platform and its integration with your eCommerce platform.
Choosing the Best eCommerce CRM to Collect & Store First-Party Data
The trick with first-party data is that it needs to be tied to a specific customer, otherwise, it becomes really hard to leverage it. Sure, generic first-party data like your best-selling products, best-performing marketing channels, etc. and help you streamline and optimize your marketing strategy at a high level which is great… but when it’s tied to a specific person you can then personalize your interactions with that person through email, SMS, and even on your website
So, you already know
A platform I recently dug into and fell in love with is Drip. Drip is a master at automation and I love the flexibility it gives you to move people through those automated journeys. They’re the clear winner in terms of what can be done in automations. The way they manage products isn’t as good as
Omnisend is very similar to
Why having the right email marketing platform matters
What makes all of these so powerful is their deep integrations with eCommerce platforms like Shopify and the ability to store custom information about your customers on their profile and that is how you actually leverage the zero & first-party data to your advantage.
This is in stark contrast to a platform like Flodesk, which is just not built for eCommerce and I really beg you to stop using it.
What Zero-Party Data Should I Collect About My Customers?
Okay, so you’ve got your tech platform dialed in and we’re properly collecting & storing first-party data, it’s time to be proactive about collecting zero-party data. Because remember, zero-party data is the information customers provide you voluntarily.
When it comes to collecting zero-party data this is where more of the nuance comes in because it’s going to be dependent on your business and product. The first step in the process is to identify what information you want to collect and what will be helpful for you.
In most cases, someone’s birthday is pretty universal across all businesses because what customer wouldn’t love to get a little treat for their birthday?
Let’s run through a few examples of different types of zero-party data for different types of businesses to get those creative wheels turning.
When you’re trying to decide what information to collect, you’ll want to think about the outcome of having those answers and what you’ll be able to do with it. More specifically, will it change what products you recommend, the type of content you send them, or the words you use to market to them?
Quiz & Survey Questions for eCommerce Brands
If you sell kitchenware and cooking supplies you might want to know what level of chef someone is, Williams Sonoma collects information like this. You might also want to know if they bake or not. Not only would this allow you to better personalized their product recommendations, but it will also change how you market to them and the type of content you send.
For example: during the holidays, to those people who say they bake you can send a bunch of fun holiday cookie recipes and the tools they’d need to make them. But if someone doesn’t bake, it’s unlikely that is going to drive much revenue from that group. But a great side dish recipe with the perfect serving dish might convert better.
If you’re a home decor store, that isn’t niched to a particular style, you might want to know what their preferred style is. Is it boho, modern, traditional, industrial, etc? Again, not only would this potentially change the product recommendations and content you send, but you might even choose to use dynamic content to show them different lifestyle images of your products in an email.
For example: Let’s say you have a new piece of table decor that could work in multiple of those design styles. Instead of showing the same one image to everyone that might make it difficult for someone to envision in their home, you could create a boho version, an industrial version, a modern farmhouse version, etc. And in most cases, you can do this with some stock imagery and good photoshop editing. This way, when someone opens your email the can immediately see how that product would fit into their home.
If you sell jewelry, you might want to know someone’s metal preference, or whether or not their ears are pierced.
If you sell supplements for pregnant people, maybe you want to know what stage they’re at. Are they trying to conceive, what trimester are they in, or are they postpartum?
If you’re a clothing boutique you might want to know what their favorite part of their body is that they love to show off. If you sell multiple categories of clothing, such as men’s women’s, and children’s you might want to ask which are relevant to them.
If you have a multi-location local business, you might want to know what their preferred store is. And notice I said preferred… not necessarily the closest. Because maybe they have a store that’s closer to work vs. home and they prefer to go to that one.
At my previous gig, we wanted to understand what product categories they were interested in. And yes, we could see what they did and didn’t buy, but due to the nature of our products, if there was something they explicitly weren’t interested in or didn’t want to hear about – we wanted to honor that for them.
If you sell skincare and/or makeup you might want to understand their top 3 skin concerns, their lifestyle, their habits, their skin tone, etc.
You get the idea right?
How to Collect Zero-Party Data
Once you identify what information you want to collect, then you have to decide the best way to collect that data. Typically, this is going to depend on how much data you need.
Let’s say you only need one piece of data, their preferred store out of a total of 6 locations. In that case, a simple drop-down on your email sign-up form is enough. You can even expose this on your manage preferences form and then have a link in your website and email footer that says update your preferred location.
For a skincare brand, you likely want to learn a lot more about your customers like their top skin concerns, their skincare habits, lifestyle, etc. In that case, you’ll be better off with a product recommendations quiz or a survey. This way you can get all that data in one shot. Putting that many questions on a signup form is too much. But if it’s in a quiz or survey, the customer expects there to be more.
The Best Tech Platforms to Collect Zero-Party Data
Again, if you’re only asking for one or two pieces of information you can probably stick that right in a regular sign-up form. Otherwise, you’ll need a more robust survey or quiz tool.
When it comes to picking the right tool, there are 2 main considerations you’ll have. One, how is the data passed into your email marketing platform, and two, if you want to give product recommendations based on those answers, how do the recommendations work?
For example, Interact which is a popular quiz platform that recently released its integration with
In terms of the product recommendations and what functionality you need, this will depend heavily on your assortment. If you want to recommend a collection of products or a skincare routine, you’ll need to be able to weigh products by collection and set the specifics of what is recommended.
In that case, a tool like Product Recommendations by Revenue Hunt is a good option. It’s not the prettiest… but the functionality is really flexible. I used it with a skincare client and we were able to set up a quiz that recommended a specific skincare routine, 1 product from each category of face wash, AM & PM serums, moisturizer, SPF, and a mask.
If. you have a smaller assortment of products and don’t need to upvote or present a collection of products check out Prehook. The founder Gen was on the podcast talking about the power of quizzes and zero-party data. I haven’t looked at the platform in a while so it’s possible things have changed, but I do remember it being a bit of a struggle if you wanted to present a collection of items.
How to Utilize the Data in Your Marketing
Alright, so now that you’ve collected the data how do you actually use it in your marketing?
The main goal of having data like this is to personalize the marketing experience for each customer. That can be done through the imagery you use, the products you recommend, the copy you put in your emails, and the general focus of the emails you send.
This can sound overwhelming at first, but as long as you have the right tech tools, like the email marketing platforms I mentioned earlier, it’s actually pretty easy to implement, especially if the platform support dynamic content. And when I say dynamic content, that just means you can set conditions on blocks of content that only show to the people it’s relevant to. This can also be done with conditional splits in flows, and segmentation for campaigns.
The one thing you do want to be careful of is over-segmentation. Especially if your list is on the smaller side. Sending a campaign to 20 people, no matter how well targeted is unlikely to generate much in the way of revenue. As your list grows, segmentation becomes more important. But even when you have hundreds of thousands of subscribers on your list, you’ll still want to balance the input with the output.
For instance, instead of trying to create a campaign for each segment of your list, you can just exclude the ones you know for sure any particular email isn’t relevant to. I also recommend you focus more on segmentation in terms of where a particular customer is at in their journey with you vs. these individual preferences and characteristics.
I do think you can put more effort into utilizing this information in your automations though. I say this because these are emails that are triggered by the consumer’s behavior, and activity on your website. While you have to put in a bit of work upfront… it’s not something you have to try and update or be strategic with every single week like your email marketing campaigns.
How to Personalize Your eCommerce Email Automations
For example… if new subscribers take a survey or product recommendation quiz, you can send them different content and product in your welcome series.
Think about the skincare example I used earlier. We can create a different welcome track for each of the main skincare concerns. So say we have one for acne-prone skin, one for dry skin, and one for aging skin. Not only are we going to send them the proper product recommendations, but we can even change the copy and calls to action in that first email. Clear up your acne now, age gracefully, or get the hydrated supple skin you’ve been dreaming of. In each of these cases, we’re able to speak directly to the outcome of that particular customer.
We can also follow up with more targeted content in the rest of the welcome series and even our other automations. Instead of saying something super generic in a cart abandonment email, we can again reiterate the outcome they are looking for specifically. That can be a lot more powerful than just saying, hey you forgot this. One of the other things I always include in abandonment emails is objection handling content and reviews. Using dynamic content based on their personal struggles and the products they’re looking at we can use targeted content there as well.
When you have the right data and the right tool to utilize that data, you’re really only limited by your imagination.
Personalizing Your Website for Your Customers
Once you really start to grow and scale, you can even use this data to personalize the experience on your actual website. Yes, that is a thing. You can show different customers different feature banners, you can highlight specific products, and there is a lot of cool stuff you can do with the help of data and tech. It all starts with collecting the data.
Are Consumers Afraid of Providing Information to eCommerce Companies?
One of the hesitations you might be having is wondering where the line is between helpful and creepy. And that is completely fair, especially given consumers’ fears around online privacy.
But studies have shown that not only do consumers expect a personalized shopping experience, they spend more and are more likely to recommend brands that provide them. And a large percentage of them are willing to give a brand more information if it means that it will create a more personalized shopping experience for them.
The short story is, yes consumers are concerned about online privacy as a whole, but that’s a lot different than asking them to take a survey or submit their skincare concerns so you can provide a better shopping experience for them.
How to Get Started with Personalization in Your eCommerce Store
Okay, so how do you get started implementing this in your eCommerce business?
The first step is to identify what information you need. The easiest way to do this is to set aside some time to brainstorm and think through what the experience would be like if you were on the phone with a customer or in person with them. If they were discovering you for the first time, what questions would you ask them to recommend the perfect products and or content for them?
Once you identify what you need to know, then you can decide how to collect it. Can you put it in on your sign-up form, or do you need a survey or quiz tool?
Then you need to start implementing it into your strategy. Start with your email automations. You don’t have to revamp your entire system right off the bat, just do it little by little. I’d start with your welcome series and your abandonment emails as those are typically for biggest revenue drivers. And if you’re hesitant at first because you fear people might get freaked out, especially in your abandonment emails… set it up as an A/B test. Let the generic one and the personalized one run in parallel for a bit and see how it affects engagement and conversion.
And remember, that it’s impossible to make everyone happy, so even if you get a few people who complain and say this is creepy, that’s not enough to abandon the strategy altogether. I worked with a client a few years ago. She’s got a pretty big customer base and does multi 7-figures in revenue. When we first turned on her browse abandonment email flow it immediately started generating a ton of revenue. But she did have one or two people complain about it. So what did we do, we just filtered them out of the flow by their email so they never receive it. But we weren’t going to miss out on all that revenue because of one or two unhappy people out of thousands.
Pro Tip for Browse Abandonment Emails
And pro tip on your browse abandonment email before we go. I typically make this specific to the products they’ve been shopping, but you don’t HAVE to do that if it feels off-brand. You could always make it more generic and just talk about why your brand is so awesome and why they should buy from you… that way it feels more like a campaign email vs. an email that was triggered by them looking at a product on your website. You know your brand and customers best.
The digital marketing landscape is changing and consumers' expectations are rising. While it can feel overwhelming, there is still so much opportunity to create great shopping experiences for your customers that keep them coming back again and again.