First party? Cookie? No, we're not planning a child's birthday celebration. First-party cookies are a marketing tool that helps you to learn about how people behave on your site. 

Although there's a lot of talk about third-party cookies and how Google's update impacts their future, first-party cookies are a little different. They record what users do on your website but don't typically track them when they leave. 

In this post, we'll walk you through the details of first-party cookies, how you can use them in your ecommerce business, and how they differ from third-party cookies. The only downside? There's no chocolate involved. 

What is a first-party cookie? 

A first-party cookie is a type of tracking technology that helps websites and online services collect information about your browsing habits and preferences. This information can be used to personalize your experience or help target ads based on your interests. Unlike third-party cookies, first-party cookies are directly sent from the website itself, which makes them easier to manage and more transparent in terms of how they're used.

First-party cookies are important for ecommerce sites, as they can help track user activity, measure conversions, and improve the overall user experience. For instance, first-party cookies can be used to collect information about your browsing history and shopping preferences, which helps tailor ads and content to match your interests. They can also be used to track site activity and measure user engagement, allowing ecommerce sites to optimize their website for improved conversions and sales.

How do first-party cookies work?

At a basic level, first-party cookies work by sending small text files to your browser when you visit an online site or service. These files store user data that is used to identify and recognize your device whenever you return to the site. This allows an organization to collect analytics data and track user behavior over time, which can then be used to personalize the browsing experience or target ads based on your interests. 

Let's say you go onto a news website that has articles in English and French. You're trying to study French, so you change the language settings so it shows you the articles in French. Next time you visit the site, you don't have to switch the language to French again because it's remembered your preference – all thanks to first-party cookies.

First-party cookies in ecommerce

First-party cookies are useful for ecommerce in a variety of ways. For instance, first-party cookies collect information about user engagement, such as how long someone spends on a site or how frequently they return. This data can then be used to optimize site design, layout, and marketing strategies to improve conversions and sales.

Ecommerce brands can also use first-party cookies to create an optimal shopping experience for their users. For example, first-party cookies can be used to track what items a customer has in their shopping basket or cart. This allows the customer to come back to the website at a later date without having to start from scratch and re-enter all of their information.

Another example of first-party cookies in ecommerce is the use of user login information. When a customer visits an online store, first-party cookies can be used to track their session and prompt them to log in. This not only helps create a personalized experience for customers but also allows the website to remember their preferences and purchase history for future visits.

First-party cookies are an invaluable tool for ecommerce sites in helping to recommend relevant products to customers. By tracking a customer's browsing history, first-party cookies can be used to determine what products and services the customer is interested in, as well as their purchase history. This information is then used to create personalized product recommendations that are tailored to their interests and preferences.

First vs. third-party cookies 

Third-party cookies are a way of gathering third-party data about potential customers. There are several key differences between first-party and third-party cookies. These also reflect the differences that exist between first-party data (that you gather through owned channels, like SMS) and third-party data – more on that here!

  • First-party cookies are directly sent from website owners, while third-party cookies are created by another organization to track user activity across multiple websites.

  • Third-party cookies are mainly used to target ads based on a user's browsing history, while first-party cookies are usually for remembering preferences to personalize the customer experience.

  • Third-party cookies have been the subject of much debate and scrutiny, particularly with regard to their potential to invade user privacy and security. Although first-party cookies are used mainly to improve user experience, third-party cookies are typically used for targeted advertising. A third-party cookie tracks user behavior across multiple websites and social media sites and collects data about users' browsing activities.

  • Users can choose to delete first-party cookies, but doing so might stop a site from functioning normally. In contrast, many browsers automatically block third-party cookies.

Read more about the differences between first and third-party cookies. 

First-party cookies vs. second-party cookies

Second-party cookies are essentially first-party cookies that an organization chooses to share with a partner. Organizations that use second-party cookies typically operate under contracts with first-party websites and access data from those websites to develop insights about users and deliver targeted ads.

There are pros and cons to using first-party vs. second-party cookies, with first-party cookies offering greater control over the data collected and used by a company. On the other hand, second-party cookies can provide access to data about users who aren't currently customers or users of your site. 

First-party cookies best practices

There are a number of best practices that companies can follow in order to maximize the benefits of first-party cookies. First of all, you want to make sure you're operating within the law and protecting your users. 

Ensure that first-party cookies comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including privacy and data protection requirements. Use first-party cookies only for legitimate business purposes, such as tracking user preferences, measuring site performance and conversions, and personalizing the customer experience. 

Take steps to protect users' privacy and data by:

  • Using secure encryption methods for storing first-party cookies

  • Setting appropriate default settings for first-party cookies in browsers

  • Providing clear opt-out options for users who do not want to be tracked

Then, use the data you gather from cookies to create a delightful shopping experience for your customers. Optimizing their experience will encourage them to have a positive association with your brand and prompt them to return in the future. You can:

  • Save items customers add to their basket for the next time the user visits your site

  • Prompt users who have an account to log in and access their purchase history, preferences, and other information

  • Personalize product recommendations based on their browsing history and purchase history

  • A/B test your site's content and layout to find the design that is smoothest for your users

Collect customer data for your ecommerce store 

Customer data is fundamental for ecommerce brands because it allows them to understand and analyze the behavior, preferences, and needs of their customers so they can fully optimize and improve their business. First party cookies are valuable, but they're only one way of gathering first-party data about your customers. To learn more about customer data, plus different types and ways of gathering it, read our guide.