Stop & Shop Has Been In Ad ID Test-And-Learn Mode For Four Years – And It’s Only Getting Started

There’s no time to stop and shop when there’s so much to test and learn.

Unless, of course, you’re Stop & Shop. The northeastern US grocery chain is four years into a program to expand its ecommerce marketing and first-party data capabilities. But it still feels like early innings, considering how much change has happened in just the past year alone.

“We want to be early adopters and hand-raisers as a part of these cookieless and new ID solutions,” said Meghan Galligan, Stop & Shop’s director of digital marketing.

Galligan joined Stop & Shop in 2018 to steer a more ecommerce-focused approach to the company’s marketing. (She handles paid media, not Stop & Shop’s revenue-generating ad business as a publisher, which falls under a business called Peapod Digital Labs that’s owned by the same parent company, Ahold Delhaize.)

Having a long runway to test its first-party data strategy proved especially useful last year after Google Chrome announced it would delay the deprecation of third-party cookies until the end of 2023, rather than, ummm … right now. While other advertisers relaxed, Stop & Shop already had a years-long commitment to revamping its advertising and identity practices, Galligan said, and could take advantage of the extra time to run much-needed trials.

“We were already planning to test regardless of Chrome pushing that back,” she said. “Given all these changes, it’s really crucial for us to get early learnings and go into the next phase, whether it was 2022 or 2023, with solutions we felt good about.”

When Galligan joined in 2018, her first big move was to partner with an agency, settling on the retail-focused AMP Agency. She also onboarded Dstillery for audience and identity solutions, NinthDecimal as a location data provider for in-store foot traffic metrics and LiveRamp as a data onboarding and ID provider, to name a few.

The early tests have been encouraging, she said. Durring the second half of last year, Stop & Shop tested a Dstillery cookie-free targeting solution alongside its standard third-party cookie-based campaigns and saw a 70% improvement in checkout rates.

“Cookies have served us well over the years,” Galligan said, which is why advertisers should be aggressively testing now while cookies still exist as a “fallback solution” and as a way to measure baseline results.

Third-party cookies may expand the reach of a campaign and create more retargetable audiences, but cookieless solutions have their own advantages.

For example, more contextual and behavioral data can be attached to a person-based ID. A third-party cookie is not an anchor for a profile because it changes relatively often and is actually attached to the browser or app rather than the person. (Multiple people may use Chrome on a single computer, after all, and they would share the same third-party cookie.)

“We’re not just driving customers but enhancing the attributes we collect,” Galligan said. In other words, rather than simply retargeting a device or a user based on a cookie – indicating not much more than the fact that some anonymous person recently visited a Stop & Shop website – the company can create models tied to specific types of individuals and how they behave once they reach the site.

But does the test-and-learn mode ever end?

Nope. It’s all about constant iteration.

Even if Google Chrome does deprecate third-party cookies by the end of next year, Galligan said, advertisers will still need to be testing new partners and they’ll still be facing the same problems as they try to grow their first-party data sets.

And no doubt there will be new developments that require advertisers to keep on testing.

Only last month, Google announced that Google Analytics will no longer log IP addresses. “That definitely showed up on my radar,” Galligan said.

Stop & Shop’s central analytics is now in the midst of assessing alternatives, since IP address data is one of the main online data points that the company collects.

“I think the more time the better for us to test, refine and get this right,” Galligan said, (just in case Google does delay its third-party cookie deprecation plans once again). “But, either way, we’re prepared.”

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