Dealership MarketingOpinions & Advice

Third-party cookies are going away, but what does that mean for your dealership?

Written by Kevin LeSage

One of the many benefits of digital marketing is the ability to track and measure. Tracking has always allowed marketers to optimize the consumer experience and better understand behaviors to deliver more relevant messages. There are changes coming to how we track and measure online behavior, and you may have already heard about the “cookie-less future” and “updates to third-party cookies.”

If you’re not really sure what the cookie-less future means for you and your dealership, you’re not alone.​

I’m going to break down what a cookie is, exactly what’s changing and how, in many cases, these updates are going to help automotive dealerships across the U.S.

What are browser cookies?​

When you hear the term “cookie,” think tracking. Technically, cookies refer to files stored on a user’s computer designed to hold data. They are two types: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are unique to a specific website, and user data can only be collected and activated on that one specific website.

Third-party cookies are added to your device by other parties in agreement with the website you’re visiting. Third-party cookies allow marketers to follow users around the internet to learn about their behaviors, and, in many cases, retarget them and build custom audiences. Think relevancy: As a marketer, the more I know about your behaviors online, the better and more relevant ad I can serve you.

What’s changing with third-party cookies and how will it affect dealership marketing?

As consumers have expressed increased concern over personal privacy and data, and as new regulatory laws have been passed, companies have had to adjust. Apple sparked the beginning of the end when it started blocking third-party ad tracking to protect its users. In January 2020 Google followed suit, announcing it will end support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within two years. The new changes to stop supporting third-party cookies are designed so the consumer wins.?

I’m excited for these changes for one main reason: Although audience size may decrease, audience quality will increase. Slapping third-party tags all around the web, to make a bunch of guesses about human behavior, is a poor way to build an audience. This practice creates a lot of marketing waste — in dollars, time and effectiveness. Of course, it’s never sold that way, but I have seen it many times over the years.

I’ve vetted many automotive data companies over the years. When I started peeling back layers and asking questions, I couldn’t believe the lack of credibility in the data. There was a lot of guesswork happening to build marketing audiences that were being resold. This system doesn’t help the car shopper or the marketer and can waste a lot of money — quickly.

Who wins in the cookie-less future?

Businesses need to lean into their first-party data now more than ever. By leveraging your own data and partnering with high-quality data partners, you can be successful.

Leverage your own data: The most important asset you have right now is your own data. For car dealers, first-party data is the personal records in your CRM. Real people coming off lease, or declining service in your service bays. You can build an audience from YOUR data!

With each day that passes, your data increases in value and will become your competitive advantage. It is for Cox Automotive, parent company of Autotrader. Regardless of privacy laws or the crumbling of third-party cookies, we touch 75% of all U.S. consumers shopping for a car.? We connect the dots between our online websites, measuring consumer behavior down to the hour. We’re doing that through our first-party data stitching, tracking device IDs and IP address, then mapping all that data down to the person and household.

Read more about how Cox Automotive is partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to scale our digital personalization.

Find a high-quality data partner: Data providers with meaningful partnerships and integrated technology are the ones who win in the very near future. Look for data partnerships with companies who allow access to their walled garden and “share” first-party cookie information. Companies with large, impactful first-party audiences like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook can resell consumer behavior on their own platform; they’re referred to as “walled gardens.” Cox Automotive has one of the highest-quality walled gardens of data in the automotive industry. We track car shopping behavior down to the hour with the ability to identify “ready-to-buy” shoppers who are 15 times more likely to buy than the average person in-market. We’re also able to correctly predict which make the shopper purchases over 91% of the time.? That’s the power of building meaningful, quality audiences specific to the auto industry.

How car dealers can succeed in the cookie-less future

Your dealership’s marketing strategy is all about using smart data to build high-quality audiences. Build first-party audiences and activate on them across Facebook, Over the Top (OTT) platforms, bid modifiers with Google, YouTube, etc. Then, build a conquest audience. Find new market share not currently in your CRM. Get them in your CRM. Add them to your first-party audience strategy. Keep feeding the machine!

And as you’re building out your audience strategy, there are some important questions to ask your potential conquest/big data partner. If your potential partner can’t answer these questions with facts, stats and deep knowledge, it may be time to reassess what they can really do for you, especially in the ever-changing world of digital marketing.

  • How are you collecting or buying data?
  • How are you activating on an audience?
  • How are you identifying in-market car shoppers?
  • How often are you consumer insights updating?

The cookie-less future is coming. Is your dealership ready? Find out how Autotrader can help at
Quality over quantity…

If this shifts the lead addiction as a count of "how many" to "how engaged are my leads with me" I'm all for it! A drive toward quality creates a better experience for the customer and the employees working with them. It forces vendors to build better tools and may even alleviate some of the ailments of OEM mandated pushes (maybe that part is just wishful thinking).

The root of a lot of our industry's newest evil is coming from the desire to get more and more leads.
Hopefully, this AWS Neptune Graph Database gives, Autotrader, and the rest of COX Automotive some incentive to focus on the conversion rates and UX. That entire engine appears to be heavily dependant on a lead submission (on all their platforms) to build their audience in real-time. Don't want to be stuck with a database full of IPs and Device IDs that don't equate to an audience for anyone. Some UX work will go a long way for helping both the dealer and their Graph Database. ;-)

This could be a great kick in the @ss to focus on UX for the COX Automotive team as now they can reap the benefits of growing their own audiences!
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Who wins in the cookie-less future?

Businesses need to lean into their first-party data now more than ever. By leveraging your own data and partnering with high-quality data partners, you can be successful.
Indeed, dealers who learn to leverage their 1st party data will absolutely pull ahead of the pack. Dependency on third parties to carve out market share is not ideal. They not only will want to mine their CRM, but they will also want to mine & identify their anonymous website visitors using reliable data partners who can facilitate this for them. Digging deeper into the traffic they already have to shorten sales cycles and create marketing plans to re-engage is key.