Don’t Waste Your Customers’ Time with Poor Retargeting

Written by Tim Edmundson

As marketers we’re used to putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes – it’s how we come up with relevant messaging for a variety of different audiences. Digital advertising, specifically retargeting, requires the same imagination in considering the user experience:

ADVERTISING AT ITS BEST: It’s Saturday morning and you’re starting your day as lazy as you possibly can. You’re laying in bed (why do people even get up on Saturdays?) cruising around the internet on your laptop, visiting your favorite sites, and you see an ad or two for that sweet boogie board you were looking at online the other day. You didn’t pull the trigger on purchasing it the first time since you were at work (you couldn’t handle your boss’ shaming stare as you shopped while on the clock), but now things are different. It’s Saturday, you’re free from obligation – you are ready for some boogie boarding. And with same day shipping, you’re hitting the waves later that day. Tip your hat to retargeting, because it just gave you an awesome day at the beach.

ADVERTISING AT ITS WORST: Now picture that same scenario. But instead of a boogie board, you’re served ads for umbrellas and it hasn’t rained in months. You’re not buying that umbrella, and you’re a little annoyed that you’re getting ads for a rainy weather accessory you looked at ironically. And since you’re not interested, you’re wondering why and how they knew you glanced at it for 5 seconds. Kind of creepy.

The online marketing relationship is a two-way street – while we collect data and work hard to find our perfect customers, we should remember that those customers are everyday people who may or may not take kindly to our methods. According to eMarketer, 55% of mobile phone users don’t want ANY data collected on their online habits.


It’s our job to collect information, just as it’s our duty to use the data we collect in an intelligent and helpful way, both for us and the customer. Strong, accurate retargeting along with enticing offers should be our goal when putting ads in front of our audience –  we need to hold up our end of the bargain and be useful. If we come up short, we have a chance of souring an extremely valuable relationship. Case in point, a recent Pew study surveyed Americans on their feelings about sharing personal information in exchange for something of value, and the results make for an interesting read.


While Pew posed several questions regarding information and privacy, we all stand to benefit from the answers regarding the trade of information and shopping habits for deals and offers. When asked whether it would be acceptable to trade information for future discounts through a loyalty program, here’s what people had to say:

47% find it acceptable to offer personal info and shopping habits for a benefit
20% said it depends on the situation or quality of the trade
32% call it unacceptable to trade info for rewards

Loyalty programs aren’t exactly apples to apples in terms of comparison to retargeting or other digital advertising tactics, but the basics are more or less the same – both collect the shopping habits of customers to better serve them in the future.

That 32% shows that there is definitely an undercurrent of trepidation when it comes to using customer data. The 47% is a bit more encouraging, but let’s focus on the 20% that feel it would be okay if the price is right. That’s the battleground where we as marketers need to show how valuable our services can be.


Serving appropriate ads to the appropriate audiences is a start – not just for the sake of the bottom line, but to keep consumers happy and clicking. Sales are important, but the last thing you want for your brand is to have a potential customer react with a roll of the eyes as they scroll past your ad. The key to avoiding that is to ensure you are getting relevant, interesting, and actionable ads out there that tie in well with your data.

If we fail to do that, the results can be…less than ideal. In response to a question about getting free service and benefits in return for having their online habits monitored, one survey respondent replied:

“I want control over what ads are being ‘pushed back’ to me: I have no interest in ‘puppy portraits’ but I may be interested in cameras, equipment, etc. In an effort to ‘target’ my preferences, my inbox gets full of [expletive] that is not relevant to me.”

Another added:

“…the ads are intrusive and non-relevant. [It] takes away from purposes of joining [a] site to begin with.”

These responses scream “these ads aren’t for me, and they’re wasting my time.” To make sure your ads don’t conjure the same response, double check your segments to ensure you are grouping user behaviors in a way that make sense. If you find that a certain subset of user behavior in a segment does not seem to yield results, think about retooling your approach. This should go without saying, but you don’t want to serve ads to people that will make them hate you.

If you’re satisfied with who you are targeting, make sure the ads are not only relevant, but valuable as well. Ensure your ads are performing, fix the ones that aren’t, and look for ways to be truly helpful to your customer. Employ different tactics to get your customer to convert and see you as a useful merchant.

Offer a cart abandoner free shipping | Not only does it incentivize your customer to complete the transaction, it is giving them something useful which may very well pay off with some good will.

Offer real-time-pricing | Based on polling done by Forbes Insight, 61% of consumers engage with personalized offers based on their shopping habits, and 57% appreciate the efficiency and visibility real-time-pricing ads offer. With such a positive response, this should always be considered an option.

Offer a percentage discount based on time | If you know users have viewed certain products, escalate and offer them 15% off after a week. This will nudge them to reconsider and complete the sale at a lower price, and cast your business as one who will give a good deal.

Oh, and use a burn pixel! The last thing you want to do is to continually serve ads for a product that your happy customer already purchased. That’s how you make them an unhappy customer.

At the end of the day, it is our job to ensure we connect with our customers in engaging ways – for everyone’s benefit. Responsible use of your customers’ data will ensure you are hitting the right notes, and may very well help build trust between marketer and consumer.