Apple’s New Privacy Initiatives: How Retailers Can Continue to Meet and Exceed Customer Expectations in a More Private Future

By: Rachel Cowlishaw, Associate Director of Strategy–Retail

In June, Apple announced privacy measures it plans on rolling out in September’s iOS 15 release. All Apple Mail users can now take advantage of Mail Privacy Protection, which makes tracking pixels less reliable because email images are cached between being sent and being opened. It also masks the recipient’s IP address from the email sender.

Apple is also rolling out a secure private relay and “Hide My Email” functionality for paid iCloud+ subscribers. The relay will anonymize web traffic so that not even Apple can see what websites someone is visiting online. Hide My Email allows subscribers to create as many fake emails as they want when filling out information on a retailer’s website to take advantage of promotional offers or sign up for newsletters. Every email the burner accounts receive then funnels into the master account, hiding email addresses from brands and eliminating unwanted spam email from customers.

Retailers are now asking what the changes mean for their marketing and personalization efforts. Because Apple will now cache images post-send on its server, real-time image personalization will be more difficult for a large audience of retail consumers. Movable Ink found that 45% of emails were sent to people that use Apple Mail on their Mac, iPhone, or iPad. According to Wired, the new caching protocol routes tracking pixels “through a relay that strips out (recipient) data gathering.” Contextual personalization–campaigns built on weather, time, location, and other information garnered from an IP address–traditionally relies on this data, making it more difficult to target Apple Mail users moving forward. 

While you may hear doomsday bells in the background, don’t heed their call quite yet. Contextual personalization isn’t as popular as it was ten years ago, and most retailers have a wealth of zero and first-party data that they leverage to create sophisticated email marketing campaigns. Retailers may have to rethink some of their tactics, but that could ultimately lead to more personalized, scalable campaigns that drive revenue and build better relationships with customers.

Instead of focusing on what brands cannot do post-iOS 15, take a look at how retailers can evolve to keep up with a marketing world that must now balance personalization with consumers’ increased demands for more privacy. 

Loyalty, Elevated

Content blocks that display personalized rewards information traditionally rely on real-time images that show a reader how many points they had at that exact moment. But loyalty is about more than points, it’s about communicating value and driving engagement with your most valuable customers. Points trackers still work, and they will still give customers a fairly accurate look at their current total, but the focus for retailers should be elevating loyalty communications to the next level. 

In this example, rewards information is paired with an abandoned cart item that is sent in a business as usual (BAU) promotional campaign. The content block above the fold can display Tracy’s rewards status if her rewards points total is close to a number that will encourage her to purchase the abandoned leather bag. If not, marketers can substitute an image offering free shipping, and if Tracy isn’t a loyalty member, the block can encourage them to sign up for a loyalty membership. 

Building Zero-Party Data through Better Content

Now that Apple is limiting the data brands can collect, marketers will need to start compiling zero-party data to create a holistic view of their customers. Zero-party data is information that consumers offer to brands through surveys, onboarding, or giveaways. It is the data equivalent of precious metals, a valuable resource that isn’t easy to unearth but worth the effort. 

Brands should focus on content that excites and engages customers if they expect someone to volunteer personal information. Of course, loyalty programs are designed to excite while providing value for consumers, making them beneficial for collecting zero-party data. In this example, FLX offers up to 500 rewards points if a customer fills out a simple questionnaire, including what they like shopping for and their apparel sizes. The survey will provide data that allows marketers to create more personalized email and mobile campaigns while customers receive more points toward their next purchase. It’s the kind of win-win scenario people expect in exchange for zero-party data. 

Eliminating the need for IP addresses

Brick and mortar sales are still incredibly valuable to retail brands that rely on foot traffic for the majority of their sales. Even as eCommerce continues its astronomical rise, retail marketers still understand the necessity of email and mobile campaigns that encourage in-store sales. Unfortunately, now that Apple will mask IP addresses, brands have more limited options when displaying personalized content blocks that display a customer’s nearest store location.

Returning to the first email example, marketers have done away with contextual personalization to display the nearest store. Instead, a customer’s zip code is used to show them where their nearest store location can be found. While zip code may not account for customers that are traveling at the exact moment of email open, it is still an accurate way to display that person’s nearest store location a majority of the time. Apple’s shift is a harbinger of the tech future, where device makers will likely concede to consumer demands for more privacy and follow Apple’s lead. Making the change from contextual marketing to first-party data now ensures that brands are still delivering personalization for every customer on every device. 

Blending Email and Mobile

Apple’s updates will, at least at first, only affect email personalization, leaving mobile marketing free of new data constraints. Last year, 39% of retail eCommerce occurred in a mobile app or browser and 71% of consumers used multiple devices to research products before making a transaction. 

If retailers have not expanded their personalization efforts into mobile messages, the time to do so is now. Here you see an abandoned cart campaign that mirrors the trigger email sent when a customer adds an item to their cart then closes their browser. The image is hyper personalized, reminding Julio that their abandoned item is still available at their favorite store. It even shows how many shoes are left in stock to build a sense of urgency. 

You may read somewhere that Apple’s iOS 15 privacy updates are the end of email. That statement is bandied about every time a significant event influences how organizations market to their customers. It is also untrue. In reality, email has been around for fifty years in one form or another and has matured from simple batch and blast messages to the personalized, visual wonder that it is today. The time to prepare for the future of email personalization is now.

For more information on Apple’s iOS 15 privacy updates, watch our webinar, Evolving Your Email Marketing Strategy for Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, today.