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8 Tactics for Collecting Zero-party and First-party Data to Fuel Your eCommerce Business

It’s a mantra at eHouse Studio: brands must work to earn the customer. Beyond providing products and services consumers need and want, beloved brands with loyal customers also provide great customer experiences. If you can’t compete on experience, you’re boxed into competing on price, which can become a race to the bottom. Not an ideal situation for most eCommerce merchants. 

Creating great customer experiences and building customer relationships is based upon knowing your customers. This means interacting with them to get information beyond what they purchase.

Imagine the marketing and personalization possibilities if you truly knew how your customers use your products in their daily routines, what concerns they have, and what they want from your brand. Amazing! 

Why you need to collect more data about your customers

With increasingly limited cookie usage and access to accurate third-party data, as well as consumer privacy concerns, the race is on for brands to collect and leverage their own customer data.

Many brands have been on the Facebook gravy train for so long, they’ve forgotten they should be collecting data about their own customers. It’s so valuable! Data that comes directly from your customers can be a real competitive advantage and offers huge potential for differentiation. 

Without this information from customers, you’re guessing. And likely wasting money on marketing, product development, and more.

It’s time to get back to basics and build relationships with customers by finding out more about them. This blog provides a handful of tactics and best practices to get you started. The good news is, many of these tactics are simple and don’t require too much investment. You can start small and ramp up. What’s important is to have a strategy and plan. 

Quick review: What kind of data do we need?

Here’s a quick recap of the key data types to know. 

Zero-party data

Zero-party data is Information a customer voluntarily tells a brand (e.g., demographics, preferences, feedback, etc.). This is THE BEST customer data because, not only is it the most accurate, it is also the most transparent and comfortable for consumers concerned about data privacy. 

First-party data 

First-party data is the information a brand collects about customer behavior on its own properties. First-party data can include purchases, browsing behavior, search, interactions with marketing campaigns (email, landing pages), and social media. This is also THE BEST data because you’re tracking it directly and the behaviors are directly relevant to your brand.

Third-party data

Third-party data is the type of data you’re likely most familiar with – data aggregated from multiple first-party sources that you purchase from another company, like Facebook, about consumers that might be like your customers. In the past, this has been an easy, cost-effective, on-demand way to find new customers. But, as you know, costs have gone up while accuracy has gone down. 

Second-party data

Second-party data isn’t as common, but it may become more so as third-party data becomes less accessible. Second-party data is first-party data that you don’t own but get (e.g., purchase or share) from a trusted partner with a similar customer base. 

Make a plan: What information do you want and how will you use it?

If the value of sharing their information is clear to your customers, they’ll likely be happy to do it. But ask too many questions too often, and you’ll quickly wear out your welcome. Therefore, it’s a good idea to focus on collecting key information that will help you solve a problem and/or inform your business and marketing strategies. This could include: 

  • Customer feedback on experience – so we can improve the purchase and post-purchase experience
  • Level of experience with products/category – so we can provide more relevant product recommendations
  • Self-categorization/who are you shopping for – so we can provide more targeted promotions
  • When is your birthday? – so we can send you a special offer or gift

Some best practices when asking customers for information include keeping it quick and to-the-point, being transparent about why you want this information, clearly explaining the benefit to customers, and having a plan for putting the data to use in a timely manner so that customers are able to connect the dots to seeing or experiencing the benefit. 

Start with proven data-collection tactics

Fortunately, there are many tried-and-true tactics for zero- and first-party data collection you can implement, starting with what’s easiest for you and branching out from there. Following are eight tactics to get you going.

1. eCommerce site analytics

Hopefully, you’ve implemented Google Analytics 4 (GA4) so that you’re doing more accurate reporting and have a more precise view of more complex user journeys. We also recommend switching from client-side tracking (what you’re likely doing now) to server-side tracking to ensure you get more and more accurate first-party data.

Collecting first-party data gives you insights into the behaviors of your actual customers and potential customers (not lookalikes) on your site; e.g., search, page views, conversions, eCommerce funnel, customer journey, etc.

2. Social media interactions

Social media polls can be a great way to get consumer feedback, aka zero-party data. You can ask anything, but you’ll get the most traction if you keep it simple. For example, get a better feel for customer preferences by asking which colors/products/features they prefer. 

3. Post-purchase surveys

On-site and email surveys are useful tools to get a bit more in-depth with questions. And, you can automate them! Use an app, such as Fairing, to automate surveying your customers, collecting responses, and then using that data to power personalized campaigns. Simple but insightful questions include: How did you hear about us? How was your experience? What could be better? In addition, you can go deeper by asking customers to classify themselves by customer type or experience level (e.g., I’m a student/retiree/parent, I’m a beginner) and use that information to segment customers for marketing campaigns.

4. On-site quizzes

Quizzes can be effective in helping customers determine which of your products meet their needs. For example, a quiz can help customers narrow down which type of shampoo is the best for their hair type, or how often they need a subscription box to be delivered. Quizzes also help brands better understand customer preferences, such as a “What’s your style?” quiz. For a great example, check out this skincare quiz on the L’Amarue eCommerce site. 

5. Customer reviews

Asking for and displaying customer reviews on your site is a great way to build trust and help guide the shopping experience. Reviews also can be a goldmine for collecting first-party data, such as information about where reviews were collected, product ratings, customer geographic location, customer engagement with reviews, device used, and more. Use an app like Yotpo to automate asking for reviews via your site, SMS or email; collecting the data; and creating segments for marketing campaigns.

6. Subscriptions

When customers sign up for a subscription, it’s a perfect time to ask some questions. If you keep it quick, most customers don’t mind answering a few demographic questions in the sign-up flow, like birth date and gender or preferred pronouns. Additionally, welcome/new customer email flows are a great opportunity to ask for preferences information using a quiz. This is valuable zero-party data you can use to provide more personalized experiences.

7. Loyalty programs

Loyalty programs are tailor-made for collecting zero-party data from customers. Customers are typically fine with providing some information about themselves in exchange for loyalty program benefits. For example, you could add a quiz or brief questionnaire to your existing loyalty program when new members join. If you’re thinking about exploring a paid loyalty program or NFTs to attract members who are true fans of your brand, it’s extra important to make sure customers will see and feel the benefit of providing their information to you. Some apps to help you out: we’ve used Yotpo, Inveterate, Smile.io and Loyalty Lion. 

8. Brand communities

Creating and nurturing brand communities can be an effective way to connect with customers, build relationships, and increase customer lifetime value (LTV). Going beyond loyalty programs, brand communities are logged-in experiences that enable interactions with the brand and other fans, and may include message boards, events, challenges, chats, and interest groups. When customers join a brand community, it’s a great time to ask for zero-party data, including demographics and preferences (e.g., product type, fit, etc.). You also can post questions or polls to get feedback from your brand communities.

Third-party data still at your fingertips: Shopify Audiences

As a Shopify merchant in the U.S. or Canada that uses Shopify Payments, you have access to Shopify’s (anonymized) data for customer acquisition campaigns: Shopify Audiences. Shopify merchants can create audiences from customers in the Shopify network… sound familiar? 

Shopify Audiences enables merchants to generate a list of buyers (from other Shopify merchants) who are most likely to also purchase from you. You can export lists to ad platforms including Facebook. 

Put retail media networks (RMNs) on your radar

Other big players in the customer data arena to know about are large retailers or marketplaces, including Amazon and Walmart. Experts say we’ll see more from these retailers as they strategize how to monetize the massive volume of first-party data they collect from consumers – everything from brand preferences to demographics. And, because these retailers sell products that span verticals (e.g., groceries to housewares), the data they have could support multi-dimensional customer profiles for more targeted advertising. 

Get to know your customers

Like that time you bought dairy-free ice cream for a friend based on what they ordered last time, only to find out it was for their lactose-intolerant grandma… You can’t truly understand what’s important to your customers by looking at what they buy. The only way to find out what they want, need, and care about is to ask them. With the demise of easy access to third-party data, increased use of ad blockers, and customer concerns about privacy, interacting and building relationships with your customers is more important now than ever.