How to Collect First-Party Data in a Privacy-First World

From our friends at Inflow.

With the increasing instances of data and privacy breaches, today’s consumers are becoming much more privacy-conscious. In turn, these concerns surrounding the use of personal data by corporations and businesses, both big and small, have led to the introduction of new privacy laws—most notable being the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the U.S.

Consequently, there has been a significant shift in how companies collect data, with many moving toward more privacy-centric methods. Current trends, such as Google’s planned elimination of third-party cookies and Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, have made it even more difficult for businesses to collect consumer data.

Now, marketers who used to rely on third-party data must scramble for new methods of collecting the information they need to run campaigns.

If you’re currently struggling with the same issues, don’t worry. There are still plenty of ways to gather customer data, even in a privacy-first world.

If anything, the confluence of privacy updates has forced many in the industry to get creative with data-gathering — a topic we’re covering in full in this post.

First-Party vs. Zero-Party Data

One of the most important things to understand when collecting data is the difference between first-party and zero-party data.

First-party data means you collect it yourself, typically during interactions with your customers or website visitors. This includes information gathered through:

  • Online forms
  • Surveys
  • Customer service interactions
  • Your CRM (customer relationship management)
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Social media
  • Analytics from your ecommerce site or app

Zero-party data, on the other hand, is data your customers voluntarily share with you. This is often collected through loyalty programs or other customer-initiated interactions.

Typically, the best way you can collect zero-party data is by asking people for their information in return for an incentive (think rewards points, free downloadables, eBooks, discount vouchers to your ecommerce site, etc.).

Whether first-party or zero-party, your customer data can include the following details:

  • Demographic information (age, gender, location)
  • Purchase history
  • Preferences
  • Habits
  • Interests
  • Beliefs
  • Behaviors
  • And more

Many ecommerce sites and businesses prioritize first-party data marketing because it provides the most accurate information. It’s also more reliable than third-party data, which can often be inaccurate and outdated.

That said, first-party data can be difficult to amass in large enough quantities to be useful for marketing purposes.

This is where gathering a combination of both first- and zero-party data proves valuable. Zero-party data can supplement first-party, provide insights into customer behavior, and help complete the customer picture.

How to Collect First-Party Data in 2022

The data privacy landscape is constantly evolving, so it’s up to us as marketers to stay on top of trends and ensure that our brands’ marketing strategy remains relevant.

This guide will walk you through some practical tips for obtaining first-party data to help you build a strategy for your ecommerce site. Most are from our experience working with ecommerce clients at Inflow, but all of them can be applied to any business type.

We’ll also briefly touch on some zero-party data collection options to help you form as complete a picture of your customers as possible.

1. Build an extensive email list.

Email lists are a fantastic way to acquire first-party data. They allow you to reach out to your customers and website visitors directly. You can also use them to promote new products, send out coupon codes, or announce sales and events.

Whether you’re researching a topic or launching an ecommerce store, personalized email subscriptions are an excellent method to discover new information and get initial data from your audience. They also help you track users across your site and gain more insights into their activities.

In addition, email lists are ideal for data targeting and retargeting purposes. Through segmenting, you can send targeted messages to specific groups of people based on their interests, location, purchase history, or any other data point you’ve gathered.

The best way to grow your list is to offer something valuable in return for an email address. Most customers won’t willingly sign up unless they’re really interested in your brand or content. You can incentivize signups by offering a one-time promo code or special discount. A loyalty program is a great idea as well, which we’ll talk more about later on.

A screenshot of a website offering a 10% discount to visitors who sign up for their newsletter.
Offering discounts are an excellent way to build your email list.

Other ways you can build your email list:

  • Include an email sign-up form on your website or blog.
  • Ask customers to join your email list at the point of purchase.
  • Run a contest or giveaway that requires an email address for entry.

2. Prompt your customers to create accounts.

While letting customers check out as guests can boost conversion rates, they’re not ideal from a data-gathering perspective. For this reason, ecommerce sites should always encourage customers to create an account during the checkout process.

Account registration forms are a great way to collect first-party data. By requiring customers to create an account, you can obtain their name, email address, shipping information, and payment details. You may then use this data to segment your customer base, send targeted messages, and improve customer experience.

A screenshot of the pre-checkout login screen of an ecommerce business called Dollardays. Having customers create accounts before buying a product is an easy way to collect first-party data.
Enhance your email marketing by having customers create accounts at checkout

To increase the likelihood of customers creating accounts:

  • Reduce the number of form fields: Make the registration process as easy and streamlined as possible. Fewer form fields encourage more signups.
  • Incentivize account creation: Offer a discount, promo code, or loyalty points to entice them to complete the registration process.
  • Provide an option to save data for future transactions: If you don’t want to obligate your customers, just add a tick box below all the mandatory checkout fields. This gives them the choice to save their data for succeeding purchases.

3. Use personalized chatbot strategies.

Chatbots are an excellent way for ecommerce businesses to collect zero-party data. By engaging with customers in real-time, chatbots can acquire data such as preferences, needs, and wants.

Ecommerce chatbot builders like offer a wide range of features that can help you personalize your chatbot strategy. Not only are you gathering zero-party data, but you’re also ensuring prompt customer support.

What is Conversational Commerce? | AI Chatbot Building Platform for Ecommerce

Furthermore, chatbots can be used to offer personalized content and recommendations. This is a valuable marketing strategy for sending targeted messages to your audience.

To personalize your chatbot strategy:

  • Gather data on customers’ preferences: Use chatbots to ask customers about their preferred colors, styles, sizes, etc. You can then use this data to send personalized recommendations.
  • Build a profile for each customer: Based on the data you’ve collected, you can create customer profiles to segment your customer base and send targeted messages.
  • Recommend products and services: Once you know your customers’ interests, your chatbots can recommend products and services they might like.

4. Add progressive form fields to your site.

Progressive form fields are effective in obtaining data without interrupting the user experience.

The same fields in standard form tend to appear for every user. The progressive versions can be customized according to each user’s interactions with your site.

For example, the field for “Country” in the standard form would have a drop-down menu with all the countries in the world. With progressive form fields, you can instead display a menu with selected countries relevant to the user.

This is an efficient way to collect data because it allows you to gather only the necessary information. It also ensures that your forms are as concise as possible, improving conversion rates.

Over time, you will gain a deeper understanding of your customers without having to ask them the same questions repeatedly or requesting too much information right off the bat.

Customers are more likely to fill out relevant forms, so progressive form fields improve the customer experience while also helping gather valuable data.

5. Implement a loyalty program.

Loyalty programs encourage customers to keep coming back to your ecommerce store. By offering rewards for repeat purchases, you incentivize them to buy from you frequently.

This tactic can also be used to acquire customer data. You will learn more about a shopper’s preferences and purchasing habits as they interact with your loyalty program.

A screenshot of the benefits of Nordstrom's loyalty scheme.
Use loyalty schemes to turn one-time customers into returning ones!

Using this data, you can improve the customer experience and make targeted marketing decisions. Statistics show that existing customers have a 60% to 70% chance of repurchasing, compared to new customers at 5% to 20%. Furthermore, it costs five times more to gain new customers than it does to retain existing ones.

For these reasons, loyalty programs can be extremely valuable for ecommerce businesses. Not only do they encourage repeat purchases, but they also provide valuable data for enhancing the customer experience.

Create Your First-Party Data Strategy Now

Having a solid first-party data strategy is crucial, especially now that Google’s third-party cookies are going away. There are various ways to collect this data, but the five methods listed above can be some of the most effective for online businesses.

By implementing these strategies, you can start accumulating valuable data that can be used to advance your ecommerce business. We recommend testing out a few of these strategies to see which ones work best for you.

The sooner you start gathering first-party data, the better position you’ll be in to compete in the post-cookie world.

Entrepreneur and digital marketer Mike Belasco has been the founder and CEO of eommerce digital marketing agency Inflow since 2007. His background as a web developer and SEO expert built an agency that has worked with major brands like Amazon,, Dish Network, and many more. Today, Mike leads a team of more than 25 PPC, SEO, and conversion optimization specialists as a boutique, fully remote ecommerce marketing agency.