Why Retailers Should Track Consumers across Devices

Written by Courtney Lowenthal on . Posted in Network News, Technology

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We all know that mobile commerce has grown considerably over the past few years. With this increase in mobile activity, we have learned the evolution in consumer behavior is not at the expense of desktop traffic, but acts as additional, rather than replacement traffic as individuals spend more time each day online.

Aside from the change in mobile behavior, we have discovered the way consumers are accessing and interacting with content has also evolved, with customer journeys now not just spanning multiple channels, but also across different devices.

According to Google, 90% of consumers use multiple devices sequentially to accomplish a task, and of these users, 98% move between devices in the same day.

For retailers within the affiliate marketing channel, also known as ‘advertisers,’ not having a cross-device solution presented a problem as the channel has been premised on a last click basis. Without a cross-device solution, it is impossible to track cross device interactions, which means publishers, also known as ‘affiliates,’ such as coupon sites and bloggers have been losing out on commissions for sales that they have influenced.

Cross-device tracking ensures all sales are tracked and affiliates are rewarded for driving sales, even if the customer journey involved multiple devices. For retailers, this is important as they will gain greater insight into customer journeys and the impact switching devices has on these, as well as reward affiliates who helped generate a sale for their brand. For retailers to truly understand the role of each device within customer journeys, the first step is to have the ability to track across devices. 

Single Device Tracking Issue

Traditionally, advertisers focused on tracking single device transactions. However, when only tracking single device transactions, it neglects the way consumers move across devices.  This is displayed in the image below, which shows a typical customer journey across two different devices. As you can see, during mobile activity in the morning, no purchase was made. Later in the evening, the consumer returns directly to the site to make their purchase, so no affiliate cookie is dropped.


With single device tracking, the affiliate would not be rewarded a commission for this sale.  If cross-device tracking was implemented, the solution would match the consumer with both devices and therefore track the sale, recognizing the affiliate was responsible for generating the transaction.

Customer Journeys

While cross-device tracking is about correctly rewarding publishers for the sales they have generated, it also allows the industry to comprehend customer journeys and purchase insights in far greater detail than before, including a better understanding on the actual length of customer journeys.

As the affiliate marketing channel is one that is rewarded on conversion, the common belief is that customer journeys through the channel are short – with the majority of conversions taking place in the same day. However, cross-device tracking has given the channel insight into the true length of these journeys and questions if the current cookie lengths that have been set are still appropriate.

Across the industry, the standard cookie period is 30 days, meaning that when a consumer browses online and clicks a publisher link to a brand’s site, a cookie will be ‘dropped’ and will remain on a consumer’s device for 30 days. If the customer makes a purchase within that timeframe, the publisher will earn a commission for facilitating that sale. For retailers, cookie length is important as it determines who should be correctly attributed for the sale. In retail specifically, lengths should be based on the products retailer is selling as well as the typical customer purchasing behavior within that sector.

When delving into devices that initiate customer journey, the below pie charts show both the initiating device as well as the converting device. It is evident that smartphones initiate more than they convert, while desktops convert more than they initiate. Prior to capturing cross-device interactions, the role of smartphones as an initiating device was clearly misunderstood.

Also, if we consider the types of sites and the way smartphones are used, it is no surprise to see data across the Affiliate Window network show smartphones influencing more than they convert.


Publisher Type & Influence

Within the channel, common publisher types include discount code, cashback, loyalty platforms, and content & influence, including blogs and editorial sites.

With cross-device data, retailers area able to better understand the publisher types and individual publishers that had previously been missing out on sales they had driven, due to consumers purchasing across multiple devices.

This ties back to the role of each device and the value of affiliates as influencers. For example, content sites, such as blogs, have a 15% increase in cross-device sales when compared to those that are single device. If we consider that content affiliates are likely to be more prevalent within the research phase of customer journeys, and typically have a significant share of their traffic through smartphones, it highlights how much of their influence would go unrecognized without a cross-device tracking solution in place.

From this data, it also clear to see publishers, such as bloggers, who rely on social media traffic, drive significantly more cross-device sales when compared to single device activity. This is not surprising as the vast majority of social traffic is mobile. When coupled with the fact that influencers will typically have large social following, it makes sense they are involved earlier in the path to conversion and are responsible for influencing more cross-device transactions than they convert.

Conversely, cashback sites drive significantly more single device sales than cross-device. With cashback sites primed to convert, this conversion typically takes place on the singular device the member used to first visit the site.

Deterministic vs Probabilistic Approach

Although it is important for brands to understand the necessity to track cross-device customer journeys, many are unaware of the two vastly different approaches to implement cross-device tracking – deterministic or probabilistic.


Probabilistic cross-device tracking method collates a number of anonymous data points such as device type, location and operating system, and then uses statistical algorithms to create likely matches between devices with a forecast accuracy of 25-85%.

Deterministic cross-device tracking method uses specific, first party data provided by the user to create links between devices with 100% accuracy. This is the method commonly used by the likes of Google and Facebook, who rely on users logging in across multiple devices to create cross device linkage.

Given the nature of the channel, it is important to ensure that retailers are only paying for legitimate sales – something that a probabilistic method cannot guarantee.


Customer journeys are becoming increasingly complex as consumers are using a number of channels across multiple devices. With this added layer of complexity, it is vital for businesses to be able to track cross device user journeys.

Cross-device tracking should now be seen as a tracking standard across the industry.  The insights this provides into customer journeys is invaluable and ensures that retailers are able to make informed decisions based on the data available to them. Without an effective cross-device tracking solution in place, devices and indeed publishers’ value as influencers will continue to go largely unrecognized and ultimately unrewarded.

 Interested in learning more? Watch our webinar on cross-device tracking and why it’s so critical.

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