The Complete Guide to Zero-Party Data Marketing for Ecommerce Merchants

Everything you ever wanted to know about zero-party data marketing and personalization for ecommerce.

Matt Schlicht (CEO of Octane AI)
April 28, 2022

I know something about you. You have always wanted to do zero-party data marketing for your ecommerce brand.

Maybe you don't know what zero-party data marketing is, or maybe you do, but I guarantee you that either way, you have always wanted to be able to do it. (You just might not have known what it was called.)

So... What exactly is zero-party data marketing? Why do you want to start implementing zero-party data marketing immediately? How do you collect zero-party data? How do you use zero-party data to increase conversions on your ecommerce store? What brands are utilizing zero-party data marketing right now? What is the easiest way to get started? How do you learn more about this?

Don't worry. I'm going to explain everything to you right now.

Let's do this.

p.s. Want to see what zero-party data marketing would do for your store? Take this quiz we put together.

p.p.s. Do you use Klaviyo, we created an insane guide to personalizing Klaviyo flows and campaigns with quiz data? Read it here.

"People are sick and tired of being stalked around the internet, and they now know they have options. When your potential customers get to choose what kind of data they share with you (like email addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and preferences, for example) they're giving you an open invitation to use that data. It's the most direct way to connect with your customers that has the power of one to one but leverages the intelligence of one too many." - Val Geisler, Customer Evangelism at Klaviyo


What Is Zero-Party Data Marketing?

Ok, I'm going to explain what zero-party data marketing is. But first, to better explain it, I need to ask you a few questions so I can make sure we're on the same page. Cool?

If you're reading this, you are probably trying to grow an ecommerce brand - right? If that is true, then you are also probably following this growth strategy:

  1. You collect email addresses and phone numbers on your store's website. You probably do this with a pop-up and maybe some other forms, and I'd bet you offer people a discount when they submit. (Some brands don't, and that's cool too.)
  2. Once you collect their contact information, you send them the same automated welcome series. Most of this is probably via email. Maybe you send a few texts, and if you're smart, you probably automatically turn off the welcome series the moment someone completes a purchase (and then you move them over to the post purchase flow).

"There’s so much potential to increase conversions, AOV, and LTV with better data utilization. Say you run a skincare brand and collect data about age, skin concerns, and number of steps a potential customer is willing to entertain in a routine. Rather than giving a generic, one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all welcome series, you can tailor the messaging to each user, merchandising the flow with the perfect products (and ideally bundles for a relevant routine) to make it easy for customers to find the perfect products and check out quickly.

These data points can be carried through campaigns as well, allowing even your batched campaigns to be personalized relative to the needs of each user either through segmentation or the use of dynamic content." - Mandi Moshay, Director of Retention at Common Thread Collective

What basic data marketing looks like:

If you are following this strategy, this is probably the data you have available to you on each person:

Basic Data (the old way)

Tobi Lutke
(555) 555-5555
Products viewed
Rose Hip Oil

And your welcome series looks something like this
(I mean, it's probably better than this, but I'm guessing it looks almost exactly like this):

Basic Welcome Series

Klaviyo basic email welcome series


In the example above, the "basic welcome series" (which yours probably looks similar to), has a fundamental problem: It treats every single person as if they are the exact same person. It doesn't care who they are, why they are here, or what they need or want.

Everybody is considered to be exactly the same. This doesn't make any sense!

And you know this! Deep inside, you know this.

Of course, not everyone coming to your store is the same. Your customers are different. People are different. Everybody is different!

So here's a question - what if it didn't have to be this way? What if, instead of treating everyone exactly the same, you increased conversions by getting to know each customer and personalizing your website, emails, and text messages based on each person’s preferences, concerns, and reasons for shopping with you?

Everyone is special | /r/wholesomememes | Wholesome Memes | Know Your Meme

That is exactly what zero-party data marketing is.
You ask questions on your site, in the highest converting places, and then you use the answers to automatically personalize your flows and campaigns to each person who shops at your store.

"At Marea we ask customers whether they experience physical or emotional symptoms and then are able to cater to their response via both email and SMS. Pre-purchse it's showing them what nutrients support their specific symptoms and post-purchase we look to share additional lifestyle changes that can best support their symptoms even beyond our product. This creates a much more customized experience that isn't based off the data like purchase value or lifecycle stage.

I approach collecting data as building a relationship. The deeper you can go with information you gather the better you can build meaningful, long lasting relationships with your customers and create more meaningful experiences for them via customization." - Monica Grohne, Founder of Marea


zero-party data diagram

Instead of treating everyone the same, zero-party data marketing allows you to treat everybody as an individual like you've always wished you could.

Zero-party data marketing is the use of data collected directly from consumers (zero-party data) to provide personalized experiences on your website, email, SMS, and other marketing channels so that all channels convert better and you grow revenue faster.

What zero-party data marketing looks like:

If you were asking the right questions on your website, this is the type of data you would have available to you (let's pretend you are a skin care brand):

Zero-Party Data (the new way)

Tobi Lutke
(555) 555-5555
Products viewed
Rose Hip Oil
Skin type 🆕
Skin concern 🆕
Age 🆕
Gender 🆕
Budget 🆕
$300 a month
Experience level 🆕
Allergies 🆕

This is what your welcome flow could look like with zero-party data marketing

Zero-Party Data Powered Welcome Series

email personalized welcome series chart


"Rather than using discounts in your abandonment flows, leverage the zero-party data you collect in your sign up form to address core customer problems/concerns first. Following up with interest-based content shows customers that you care and likely lead to higher value sales." - Joseph, Klaviyo Expert

This is a much better way to do email and SMS, and the welcome series is only the beginning. By implementing zero-party data marketing across your flows and campaigns, you will improve all the metrics you care about:

  • Increases site conversion rate and AOV
  • Grows your marketing list faster (email & SMS)
  • Improves engagement on other channels like email & SMS
  • Increases revenue and retention
  • Protects you from the changes from Apple and Google by giving you full control over your customer relationships and data

The best part? I know it looks crazy, but it's not difficult to upgrade your brand's marketing to zero-party data marketing. I'm going to walk you through what you would need to do from start to finish. (Heck, we'll even do it for you if you want.)

But right before I do that, just in case you were thinking, "This looks cool, but maybe I'll do this later," I'm going to tell you how a change Apple recently made to over 60% of mobile devices in the United States has put you in a position where you need to do this as soon as possible -- otherwise your business is going to be in a lot of trouble.

I know, you probably weren't expecting that. It'll be okay though. Actually it will be great.

Third-party data is going away -- you probably rely on it in a big way right now. If you don't do anything, your revenue is going to drop a lot (if it isn't already). I'm going to explain why in a really concise and clear way, and it's okay because zero-party data marketing is the answer and it's actually the best way to do things regardless.

Let's head over to the next section - we got this!

Apple notification asking apps no to track user activity

Why You Need To Implement Zero-Party Data Marketing Into Your Ecommerce Brand Right Now

It was always going to be a better strategy for you to get to know your customers and tailor your interactions and messaging with them based on who they are and what they care about.

But now, you don't have a choice -- there are outside factors forcing you to upgrade to zero-party data marketing faster than maybe you would have before.

Here's what's going on and why you need to implement zero-party data marketing immediately. Once again, to better explain what's happening, I'm going to ask you a few questions so we can get on the same page quicker.

Do you run ads on Facebook and Instagram for your online store? Do you use a pixel to track what products people look at on your store and then show them retargeting ads featuring those products?

This means that you currently pay Facebook to show ads to people who came to your website but you don't have a relationship with them. You are basically renting relationships from Facebook and other advertising partners.

This is all going away.

Advertising pixels are snippets of code that allow brands to gather data about website visitors and what actions they took so that they can use ads to retarget them.

Here's the problem: Apple has made a major update to the software on all iPhones and iPads that no longer allows advertisers like Facebook to track what people do on your website unless each individual person gives them explicit permission ( Apple represents over 60% of mobile devices in the U.S. alone, so this is a big deal).

Most people don't give permission for Facebook, or any other advertiser, to track them.

What does this mean? You can no longer rent the same relationships from Facebook and other ad platforms. For a huge number of people who visit your store now, if they come to your website and don't give you their email or phone number, and Facebook can't track them with a pixel, you have absolutely no way to get in touch with them.

"There are two key ways to grow a business: acquisition and retention. In most cases, the sweet spot is when you have a working combination of both. But the new iOS updates and changes to third-party cookies are making the acquisition side super difficult for ecommerce brands.

The answer isn’t to keep funneling money into paid channels that are no longer profitable—it’s to start serving the customers you do have with such an exceptional shopping experience that they keep coming back for more. That means you need to learn who those customers are by collecting zero-party data.

Through pop-ups, quizzes, or preference centers, you can learn a lot about your customers’ shopping preferences. Use that data to personalize every part of the shopping journey, including your emails, website, SMS, and content. Simply, the answer is retention, and a personalized shopping experience is one of the best ways to drive it." - Tina Donati, Senior Marketing Manager at Fuel Made



funel of rented relationship marketing

You are going to lose a lot of potential customers if you don't change how you do things.

"Ok, ok, but that's just Apple, all other devices will be ok, right?"

Nope. This is the way the world is going. Very soon Google will also stop supporting pixels and third-party data tracking just like Apple did.

So, how do you protect your business from these changes? How do you thrive with these new rules?

It's simple.

Instead of relying on third-party data, and pixels, and retargeting ads, you need to focus all of your energy on getting to know every person who comes to your store, getting their contact information, collecting your own data on each person, and then personalizing their experience on channels you control (like email and SMS) to maximize your conversions.

The answer is zero-party data marketing, and it puts you and your business in full control of your own destiny.

In order to position yourself to do zero-party data marketing, the first thing you need to do is to start collecting zero-party data in the best converting places on your website.

I will show you how to do that right now.

example of quiz question from Doe Lashes

How To Collect Zero-Party Data On Your Ecommerce Website

There are three steps to collecting zero-party data on your store's website.

  1. Decide what data you need from customers in order to personalize their product recommendations, emails, and text messages.
  2. Collect the data you need by asking questions to people who come to your website.
  3. Sync the data to your email and SMS marketing platforms so you can use it to personalize flows and campaigns.

First decide what zero-party data you need to collect in order to personalize the customer journey for your customers.

Think about if you worked in a physical retail store and customers were coming in all day and talking to you about your product. People would be coming in for different reasons, looking for help with different things, and trying to solve different problems. And what would you do? Some of the things you would tell them would be the same things you tell everyone, but certain things you told them would be specific to the information they told you about. Those situations where you would talk differently to someone are the situations you want to pay attention to.

This is how you figure out the type of data you need. Think through the different types of conversations you might have with customers and what different answers they might give you that would change how you talk to them. Then write down a list of the data you need to collect in order to personalize your emails and SMS.

"A person decides whether your emails are worth opening regularly based on the first few messages they get.

To nail the 'first impression emails,' we use customer data to personalize content to make it highly relevant to each person.

That means splitting flows by primary skincare concern and using the show/hide feature in Klaviyo to dynamically include content based on their additional quiz responses (like if they are sensitive to certain ingredients, or if they're new to skincare). After all, you would talk to a skincare newbie differently than you would an obsessed pro.

Collecting data directly from customers allows us to shift our messaging from a limited one-way blast, to a more natural two-way conversation.

The tone of our messaging becomes less salesy and generic. Instead, we're placing customers in the driver seat to make informed decision about which products they’d love.

We use their quiz responses to send emails educating them not only about our products but also why their skin is the way it is. This way, our emails are providing value before they've even made a purchase.

These types of intentional, personalized emails establish trust and get people in the habit of regularly opening our campaigns." - Lexie Bennett, Klaviyo Expert

Once you have figured out what data you need to collect to personalize the customer journey for your customers, you can start focusing on how you will collect the data. (Want help understanding what data is right for your brand and what questions you could be asking to get the data? Head over here to see our data recommendations by industry.)

Collect zero-party data by asking questions in exchange for giving personalized product recommendations and/or a discount.

You may not realize this yet, but the data shows that people love to answer questions and build deeper relationships with the brands they shop from. By asking the right questions, you are showing that you as a brand are interested in getting to know your customers. And by offering discounts and product recommendations, you are also showing that you are here to provide real value.

Today, you probably collect email and/or phone number on your store's website. Pretend this interaction happened in person -- what would it be like? It would basically be like walking up to someone and yelling, "Hey! Give me your email and I will give you a discount code!". It's pretty abrasive, and sure it works, but let me tell you -- it could be working a lot better.

example of a traditional website pop-up

Here is what you should be doing instead.

Instead of demanding contact information from every site visitor right away, imagine if you sounded more like this:

  • "Need help figuring out what product is right for you?" or "What are you looking for?"
  • "I'm going to ask you a few questions and find you the perfect product and give you a discount"
  • "What is the best email or phone number to reach you at?"
  • "Thank you for answering all of our questions - here is a the perfect set of products for you."

This is an infinitely more friendly experience and it converts better. Not only are you making the customer feel great and giving them confidence in what product to purchase, but you are also collecting all of the data you need to automatically personalize your emails and text messages. It's win win.

Engaging your customers in conversation is the best way to grow your marketing list, collect valuable data, and increase revenue.
Brands implementing zero-party data marketing have:

  • Connected with 16x more customers on email and SMS
  • Seen a 6x sales conversions
  • Increased revenue by over 50%.

Replace your existing pop-ups with conversational pop-ups.

Conversational pop-ups can appear when a customer first visits your website, goes to a specific page, or is about to leave your website.

"We love adding a question to the popup that we can segment off of later. One of our food brands launched with vegan only options but later on expanded their product catalogue to include some non-vegan options. We ask customers about their dietary restrictions and make sure to exclude anyone who is only interested in vegan options from emails about the non-vegan products." - Gina Perrelli, Co-Founder and COO at Lunar Solar Group

These are so easy to setup, they convert better, and they recommend a product inside of the pop-up.

a conversational pop-up funnel chart


Here are some great real life examples:

Iconic Protein conversational pop-up example
Naturalicious conversational pop-up exampleSkinny Mixes conversational pop-up example

Add a quiz to your store's website that helps customers find the perfect product.

If I walk into a beauty store with $300 in my pocket, ready to buy my first skin care routine, I am going to be incredibly overwhelmed. There are so many products! I have no idea which one to buy for my skin; I need help. Luckily, in a store I can walk up to someone and ask if they can help me figure out what I should buy.

How do people do this on your website?

A product quiz is how people get recommendations and gain confidence in your products when they are on your website. The quiz asks them questions in a fun and engaging way, gets to know them, and recommends the right content and products based on who they are. Maybe they are allergic to something; so let's not show them a few products that include those ingredients. Maybe they are shopping for their significant other and they have a very specific style preference; let's show them products we have that match that style. 

quiz funnel chart

Check out these stunning examples:

Uoma Beauty skin quiz exampleA-OK9 product finder quiz exampleGlamnetic product finder quiz example

Sync all your data to your email and SMS platforms.

Make sure that all of the data you are collecting is instantly synced to the platforms you use to manage your email and SMS automations and campaigns.

Once it is in your marketing platforms, you can now start to personalize your flows to show different content based on key facts about a person.

How exactly do you use this zero-party data and what do you do with it? I'll show you right now.

zero-party data website interaction

How To Personalize Your Email and SMS With Zero-Party Data

First, let me explain the types of ways you can use zero-party data to personalize email and SMS automations and campaigns:

  • Conditional split: Send a different email in an automated flow. For example if someone has said they have never used your type of product before, you could have a conditional split in your welcome series that checks if they said they have experience with it or not and then automatically either send an educational email or skip to the next email.
  • Personalized subject lines: Show different text in the subject line. For example if someone is shopping at a health related store they may have answered a question signifying what their health goal was (to lose weight, to get more energy, to combat a condition, etc). A subject line like "Our customers love our products" can be personalized to say "Our customers love our products for [insert reason that relates the person you are emailing]" ("Our customers love our products for improving weight loss").
  • Personalized products: Recommend products that person would specifically like or need instead of recommending everyone the same products. For example if someone tells you that they are looking for pants and their style is gothic, don't recommend every product you have instead recommend your selection of gothic pants.
  • Personalized images: Show different images. For example if someone is shopping for pet food and they tell you they have a dog, auto switch out the images in your emails to include dogs and not cats.
  • Personalized copy: Show different copy. For example if someone says they are worried about wrinkles, auto change the copy of your email to say one thing to people who worried about wrinkles ("I know you are looking to protect against wrinkles") and another thing to people who are worried about acne ("I know you are looking to protect against acne").


"A brand can collect data directly from their customer with the very first email they will ever receive. The welcome flow is a great way to collect data, and here's why and how.

Traditionally, someone opts in via a popup with an incentive. That incentive can be 10% OFF, giveaways, and much more. The customer that opts in to receive this offer is super primed to open the first email you send them.

This is where you will ask for information about your customer. Let's say you are a sportswear brand; you can ask them what sport they play and how you can do this is with images. Once someone clicks on an image, Klaviyo can then collect what sport they picked and add that to their profile with custom properties.

Based on what they picked, you can then split out the different sports that you listed, and each person should get a second email with specific sportswear that athletes in that sport will wear.

This will help you treat everyone differently and get out of basic data marketing." - Dennard Crawford, Head of Email at Sunrize

Personalize your automated flows.

Take a look at one of your email flows -- maybe the welcome series. What types of emails are in there today? Do you have a note from the founder? Educational content? Product recommendations? A surprise sale?

When you talk to someone in person, you don't always say the same thing. You change what you are saying at different points in the conversation to adjust to what they are telling you (otherwise you would sound like a robot). That's exactly what you want to do with your flows.

"At Aisling Organics, we understand that not everyone coming to our website is a certified makeup artist. We have a quiz in place to take away that feeling of “will this work for me?”. Our quiz contains questions like

  1. How much time do you typically spend on your makeup routine?
  2. Do you prefer a bold or neutral lip color?
  3. What are your skin concerns?

We take our customers' answers and create dynamic marketing campaigns/flows to build trust which in turn creates a higher LTV over time. We want our marketing to come across like we are speaking to each customer personally and directly." - Joanne Coffey, Head of Retention at Aisling Organics

Imagine you are skin care brand and you collected zero-party data like this:

example of a personalized email flow

Then you could setup a dynamic and personalized welcome series that looked like this:

chart flow of a personalized email welcome series

Or imagine you were a keto brand, and you collect zero-party data that looked like this:

example flow of a personalized customer experience

You could use your zero-party data to personalize your post purchase flow to look like this:

example of a personalized post-purchase email flow

There are so many possibilities. By taking the time to set up zero-party data marketing, you can increase your open rates, click through rates, and sales moving forward. Automatically start talking to people like individuals instead of acting like a robot.

"First, you need to understand the different customer profiles that make up your audience. Then you can determine what question will help you differentiate between each type.

For example, if you sell apparel you can ask shoppers if they’re interested in men and/or women’s collections. When you promote products you can personalize by these three interests: men, women, unisex.

If you sell pet products, ask what pet type they’re raising. If you offer products for children, ask about age groups. If you have a step-by-step solution towards a specific goal, determine what stage your customer is at in their journey.

If your products are available in-store, you could ask online shoppers if they already own your bestseller so you avoid bothering them with it. If you sell various supplements, ask what specific health goal they’re working on. Perhaps customers could be shopping for someone else as a gift, if you know this, you can address them differently.

Or more generally, you could ask if they’re interested in only hearing about educational content, new product launches, sales, or other types of content.

As an example from one of our clients, Premama sells supplements for couples on their journey towards parenthood. When collecting email addresses and phone numbers via a pop up, they also ask subscribers which stage they’re at (preparing for pregnancy, trying to conceive, currently pregnant, or postpartum). The welcome emails that follow are very specifically tailored with relevant education, product highlights, testimonials, and more." - Lisa Oberst, Director of Email Marketing at Fuel Made

Personalizing your campaigns.

When you launch a new product, instead of sending everyone the same exact email, send personalized emails to a few different groups of customers you have. Or, heck, if you have a new product that one group of customers will love, but nobody else will care about, just email and text the group that will care about it!

Here's an example:

  • You are a pet food company and you sell products for many different types of pets (dogs, cats, birds, fish, etc). 
  • You have a new fish food coming out tomorrow and you want to announce it and drive sales.
  • You have 100,000 customers who have completed a purchase and you have 1,000,000 people on your email and SMS lists. 10% of your customers have purchased fish related products from you before (10,000 people) and 10% of your marketing list told you in a quiz that they have a fish (100,000 people).
  • Right now you would probably only email the new fish food product announcement to the 10% of customers who previously purchased fish products (10,000 people). You're sending to them because you know for a fact they are interested in fish products because they have previously bought them.
  • With zero-party data marketing, because you asked people questions in a quiz or popup when they submitted their contact information, you now also know that 10% of your marketing list has a fish - that's 100,000 people! 10 times more people than you were previously going to email and text. You are definitely going to drive more sales this way.

When you are putting together your next campaign, use zero-party data to maximize the reach to relevant people on your marketing lists.

There are also lots of opportunities to personalize what appears inside of an email or text message based on what you know about someone. Here is an example:

chart comparison of two personalized email flows

So now you know what zero-party data marketing is, why you need to implement it now, how to collect zero-party data, and how to leverage zero-party data to personalize and increase conversions - so now what?

What's the easiest way to go set up zero-party data marketing for your store right now?

I'll walk you through it -- it is a lot easier than you think.

quiz results page integrated with Shopify

And if you want to hear more expert takes on zero-party data marketing, download our full zero-party data playbook for Shopify merchants. 

How To Implement Zero-Party Data Marketing Into Your Ecommerce Store

There are two ways to implement zero-party data marketing right now.

One way to implement zero-party data marketing is to build everything from scratch. Pay a developer to custom build a quiz, make it look beautiful, code all of the logic to make personalized recommendations, and then pay them even more every time you need to make an update or a change. This could cost you anywhere from $25,000 to over $100,000 depending on the level of complexity.

"Matt! No, that's too expensive! That is going to take forever!"

I agree! This is why we created Octane AI, the zero-party data marketing platform for ecommerce brands. Better pricing, better product, better results.

We have invested millions of dollars into creating the best zero-party data marketing technology for ecommerce brands so that you don't have to build it from scratch, and we've put together a world class team of ecommerce experts who are here to help you be as successful as possible.

Install Octane AI in minutes, follow our step-by-step guide on how to get setup (we'll show you everything), or talk to us and we'll have a team of zero-party data experts take care of the setup for you (define zero-party data to collect, quiz creation, popup creation, email and SMS personalization audit, and zero-party data upgrade to your automations and campaigns).

  • Shopify named Octane AI the #1 best storefront app on Shopify (out of 5,000 apps)
  • Sync data from Octane AI to top ecommerce platforms like Klaviyo, Recharge, Attentive, Postscript, Yotpo, Zapier, Alloy, and more.
  • Shopify uses Octane AI on their own store to collect zero-party data and increase conversions.
  • Octane AI is venture backed by $14mil+ from the same investors who invested in Snapchat, Hubspot, Stripe, Warby Parker, Outdoor Voices, Masterclass, and Airbnb. 
  • 1,000+ of Shopify's fastest growing brands use Octane AI to power their zero-party data marketing.
  • Shopify stores are making >$10,000,000 a month from implementing zero-party data marketing with Octane AI (and growing quickly)
  • Brands from every industry leverage Octane AI, including beauty, health, apparel, sports, home and decor, food and beverage, tools, toys, and more.

The Octane AI team has spent years building proprietary and patented technology that collects zero-party data with beautiful product quizzes and popups, optimizes onsite conversions, creates buyer profiles for your customers and marketing list, and syncs the data anywhere you need it to go.

And this is only the beginning of a completely personalized customer experience powered by automation and artificial intelligence.

If this is the future you see for your business, we would love to work with you. Right now, we are exclusively working with fast-growing Shopify stores. If that is you, reach out to us here -- we should talk.

Let's grow together.

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