November is a busy month for online shopping — known around the world as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday purchasing season!

In 2019, an estimated 190 million Americans bought something online between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Oh, what a difference a year makes! Due to COVID-19, that number is expected to rise sharply because the crowded, in-person “Black Friday” experience as we knew it is over. 

To avoid the throngs of deal-seeking shoppers crowding their brick-and-mortar locations, many retailers will be offering earlier sales, better delivery options, and longer deals.

Historically, Black Friday was for snagging in-person deals at the mall; in contrast, Cyber Monday was when people got back to their offices with high-speed internet after the long holiday weekend. But a couple years ago, retailers realized there was no need to wait. Indeed, 2019 was the first year that Black Friday topped Cyber Monday as the busiest day for online shopping. Approximately 124 million people shopped in stores while roughly 142 million shopped on retailers’ websites, according to the National Retail Federation. 

This year, far fewer Americans are forecast to pack shopping malls. According to the “2020 Deloitte Holiday Retail Survey: Reimagining Traditions” survey, among those who plan to shop predominantly online, 65% are shopping online to avoid crowds and 64% of their shopping budget will be spent entirely online during the holidays.

But the rise in online shopping means even more trackers will be trying to look over your shoulder this holiday season. Web tracking and ad retargeting have become so pervasive that it’s almost impossible to avoid. 

That’s why we’re dedicating this month on the blog to providing tips and resources to keep you safer while shopping online. Our goal is to empower you to be wiser about your personal privacy and of course, to keep your sensitive information secure. 

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing tips you can use to protect your data and have safer online shopping experiences. We’ll look at the safety of shopping browser extensions; spotting privacy red flags; and learning online shopping best practices.

Ad Retargeting Basics 

To kick off this month’s theme, today we’re sharing a quick overview of ad retargeting and what’s shaping your individual online footprint. The internet, quite simply, runs on data. In an ad-driven world, that means tech companies and online publishers are looking to track, collect, and analyze consumer behavior online. 

Companies are naturally eager to drive you back to their site to purchase something. So they’ve turned to ad retargeting, a form of online advertising that targets users based on their previous interactions with a brand or company. 

For example, let’s say this holiday season you want to purchase outdoor camping equipment for your family. You bounce around from one website to the next but don’t fill out any contact forms or make a purchase.

Instead of wasting their ad budget to get brand-new visitors, those outdoor camping e-retailers want to capture your attention again to make the sale! So they will run a retargeting ad campaign (via pixels and cookies) to send you more targeted ads.

They hope that by studying what you buy, where you click, and what types of things you’re looking at, they can put the right ad in front of you at the right time.

Ad retargeting ranges from annoying to downright invasive. 

For starters, if you’re using a shared personal computer, ad retargeting could completely ruin holiday surprises if someone in your family sees what you’ve been looking at and/or plan to buy them for the holidays. (Of course, ad retargeting also has the ability to give you hints about what your loved one really wants this year.) 

But those are the less-troublesome aspects of ad retargeting.  

Although you may think you’re browsing anonymously, the truth is that the internet is not free. Yet too many of us unknowingly trade our data every single time we simply browse. 

Our mission is to empower you to protect your personal data. It’s been said that “if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product,” since advertisers pay in exchange for influencing where you spend your hard-earned money. 

Ghostery’s privacy-focused browser extension, VPN, and ad-blocking solutions halt most tracking and thus, ad retargeting altogether. The Ghostery Browser Extension is free and available for most major browsers. You also have the option to block trackers in your browsers and applications with Ghostery Midnight.

Our full eBook about protecting your personal data while shopping online will be out later this month and will explore ad retargeting in much more detail.