Cross-Device Ad Targeting: What It Is, And How to Master It in 2022

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When a customer buys your product because of an ad they saw, something went right. Your shop was in the right place at the right time. Or, in 21st-century terms, your shop was on the right device at the right time.

There’s just one problem with replicating this success. What if there are multiple right places to find your customers? Multiple right times?

Welcome to the world of cross-device ad targeting.

According to Think With Google, it’s a rarity to think of customers as strictly offline or online. Customers most often use multiple channels before buying. And for an average purchase, a customer may use several touch points across multiple channels.


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That leaves us with one question. How can you create a consistent advertising experience for customers when those customers aren’t taking one road to the purchase? You can find the answer in cross-device ad targeting.

Table of Contents

What is cross-device targeting?

Cross-device ad targeting is a marketing strategy that unifies the marketing experience despite a customer’s multiple paths to purchase.

Let’s break that down. If a customer comes across your ad on a streaming service, then searches for it on their mobile phone, then signs up to a newsletter they receive on a laptop email, and then uses a coupon code to purchase—they’ve conducted a successful cross-device purchasing journey.

This is increasingly the norm in ecommerce. According to Statista, the ecommerce transactions that occur through multiple channels will reach $575 billion by 2023.


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We know the trends are pointing toward customers using various devices. The question is, does that translate to success when brands use cross-device ad targeting?

When AdBrain partnered up with an anonymous retailer in the UK, it wanted to test this concept. It ran ads on mobile web, desktop, and in-app experiences with a total of 23 million impressions in a three-week campaign.

The results? Single users showed a 50% improvement in brand recognition and generated a 45% increase in store visits. Even more importantly, users who saw ads on both mobile and desktop were the ones most likely to spontaneously mention the brand to others.

This points to a key insight: today’s brand-to-consumer messaging is a multi-path customer journey. Cross-device ad targeting isn’t just a way to optimize your ads. It’s a fluent way to speak the language of modern shoppers.

Key parts of cross-device marketing

To further develop how cross-device ad targeting works, let’s get a lay of the land. Today’s shopping experience can include any or all of the following:

  • Desktops and laptops
  • Smart TVs and streaming ads
  • Mobile web
  • In-podcast ads
  • In-app mobile, such as social media ads
  • Email newsletters
  • Smart speaker ads

There’s no obligation to launch campaigns that employ all of these devices. But as the previous example showed, even a simple connection between two of them—such as mobile and desktop—increased engagement and brand recognition by up to 50%.

The advantages of cross-device marketing

Cross-device marketing engages people the way people engage with the world—through multiple connected devices. But how does it specifically offer advantages over more conventional, single-device strategies?

Higher engagement

One reason to employ cross device marketing is that users, including millennials, are already working this way. A reported 80% of millennials shopping online “follow a cross-device path to purchase,” according to the Mobile Marketing Association.

Even seasoned marketers notice the difference. According to Aimee Blakemore, Marketing Manager of Flourish, “Conversion rates from users who have used multiple devices before landing on the website are 230% higher compared to average.”

Why is it so engaging? A United Healthcare report found people experience as many as 13 hours of screen time per day. If you only target users on one of those screens, you’re missing out.

From a customer’s perspective, ad engagement across multiple devices should be a seamless experience. They might learn about a product on social media as they browse their phone. Then they save the ad to an app, browse it later, and sign up for an email newsletter for the discount.

Later, when surfing on a laptop at a coffee shop, maybe they have the free time to use the discount code and make the purchase.

Most customers may not even think about how many channels they engaged before purchasing. They only know a product has been on their mind. Meanwhile, it’s the cross-device ad targeters who have been rubbing their hands together and saying, “Good—it’s all going according to plan.”

Market timing

When Gartner asked marketers their top multi-channel marketing challenge, 40% said their top challenge was dealing with issues of timing. Getting a customer to think about a purchase might work well at a specific time of day—when a customer is more likely to have their wallet out.

If a customer is on mobile at that point of the day instead of desktop, a single-device ad campaign won’t cut it.

But let’s back up. A cross-device ad targeting campaign can help businesses learn what the ideal timing is in the first place. According to a Forrester report, marketing efficiency can go up 15% to 20% by matching the right marketing tactics to the appropriate customer actions.

For example, if you discover that mobile ads are ideal for top-of-funnel actions like subscribing to a newsletter but not for conversions, that can help you in future campaigns. Ditto if you discover that newsletter coupon codes generate higher conversions than your desktop ads.

Tracking ad spend and ROAS

Big companies are cracking down on third-party cookie tracking. Rather than planting cookies in ads to follow customers across the web, ecommerce marketers will have to think more about the first-party data points they gather from direct analytics. Cross-device ad targeting casts a wider net for your data, showing you which devices are driving high engagement without the use of cookies.

ROAS, or return on ad spend, is equivalent to return on investment (ROI) for your marketing dollar. Using multiple devices in a systematic way, and using cross-device tracking, to measure this core metric helps you gauge which channels are most profitable.

There’s one caveat: you can’t identify the best devices for ROAS until you have a handle on your analytics. And to know what channels are converting and not converting, you need to have accurate multi-channel attribution in place.

The good news is that once you do, it shouldn’t be long until you can figure out which ads on which devices are your top performers.

Going cross-channel did precisely that for IRI Global Products, writes Nishat Mehta for Forbes.

“At IRI, we find that our digital campaign optimization efforts using these new [cross-channel] techniques can experience an increase in ROAS of approximately 30-70%,” writes Mehta.

Issues caused by cross-device advertising

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows with cross-device advertising. Yes, it’s engaging. Yes, running ads on multiple devices can capture customers at multiple touchpoints. Yes, it can help you figure out where to spend your device-specific ad dollars.

But that doesn’t mean it’s without challenges. Here are a few you should expect to overcome:

Annoyance: becoming the company that “interrupts” a mobile experience

For starters, no one wants to be the brand that earns a reputation for annoying ads. But the truth is that interstitial ads, or ads that take up the full screen of a mobile device, do generate high engagement.

One report found cross-device interstitial ads can out-perform banner ads on mobile devices by up to five times. This is a tempting engagement rate. Why not employ cross-channel ads that interrupt the mobile experience if it works?

The answer is simple: because you also annoy people. When Statista ran the numbers, they found that video ads with sound that play automatically were the biggest driver of annoyance.


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The challenge is in finding a balance between interruptive strategies and a cross-device strategy that drives engagement.

You don’t want to abandon an entire device simply because some users find the ads annoying. So what do you do?

You can embrace cross-device advertising with an emphasis on the least invasive formats. Here are a few:

Native ads

Native ads are ads that appear seamlessly in the structure of the platform. In other words, they appear “native” to the site, app, or media channel on which you’re advertising.

Take this ad within Chairish. Without the “Promoted” tag, the customers wouldn’t even recognize something was out of place.


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Native ads extend to two of the most popular devices for shopping: desktop and mobile apps. If you plan on placing repeat ads, see if there’s an option for native placement first.

Email ads

Customers will give extra slack to email ads because in most cases, customers signed up to receive the emails in the first place.

Take the following ad, which appeared in UK-based emails for Harry’s:


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If that banner were to appear as an overlay while your potential customers were trying to access their weather app? You’d drive some people crazy.

But on the right device—say, an email newsletter optimized for mobile—it fits right in.

Tracking: figuring out who your customers are in an increasingly cookieless world

Google announced plans to get rid of cookie trackers by the end of 2023, signaling the end of advertising that follows customers around.

The problem for cross-device ad targeting is simple. If a customer drops their phone and starts browsing on a laptop, how are you supposed to know they’re the same person?

Some marketers are already putting new strategies into place:

  • Tag management. With Shopify, you can add customer tags that use programmatic automations to trigger after a specific action after a defined event, like a customer signing up to your shop. This creates specific user IDs. Used in conjunction with unique landing pages for different devices, you can gauge your conversion rates on each.
  • Surveys. Use a Shopify app like Grapevine to get the straight dope from customers themselves.
  • Multiple filtering. If you’re using Shopify analytics, apply multiple levels of filters to get more specific views of your customers. It’s more of an art than a science, but it will help you better understand the full customer experience, and where they’re coming from.

Ways to use cross-device marketing

Like advertising itself, there’s no single answer for handling marketing across multiple devices. But there are some specific tactics in Shopify you can use to maximize your chance of getting your products seen more than once.

Holiday campaigns

Cross-device ad targeting is especially a fit for the holidays, when 85% of consumers have products on their minds so often, they factor shopping into their holiday plans.

It’s also a competitive season, which means effective cross-device marketing can help you stand out from the crowd. The “marketing rule of sevens” refers to the idea that a customer has to see your ad seven times before it sinks in.

Whether or not that’s true, cross-device marketing works well during the holidays:

  • Target mobile devices. Statistics suggest most customers (52%) will start their holiday shopping research on their phones.
  • Tell a story. Holidays are the ideal times to unwrap new marketing campaigns based on storytelling. Adform lists storytelling—using a common thread across multiple ads and ad types—as one of the chief benefits of cross-device marketing.
  • Cross-sell. Once you have new customers in your store, use cross-selling and upselling to capture some of the holiday madness.

Combine multi-channel efforts

According to some estimates, 72% of internet users across the world will only access the web via mobile devices by the year 2025. You’re either prepared or you aren’t.

Cross-device ad targeting lets you diversify your “advertisement portfolio” before we enter the mobile-only world. But what does it mean to use mobile ads to create multichannel marketing efforts for your shop?

  • If you’re brick-and-mortar, let customers sign up with their mobile phones. We’ve found 47% of new Shopify signups occur within physical retail spaces. Making it easy to sign up to your store via mobile adds another dimension to your outreach.
  • Add “Persistent Cart” to let customers save orders across multiple devices. Persistent Cart ties carts to specific accounts, which means customers can view the same order from desktop, mobile, or laptop—wherever they may be, once they’re signed up to your shop.
  • Incorporate a “Shop” channel. Shop lets you add features like delivery tracking to iOS and Android, expanding how many customers use mobile to interact with your store.

Target smaller audiences

We’re not telling you to limit the size of your target market. But as paradoxical as it sounds, you can improve your cross-device ad targeting by limiting the scope of your campaigns.

Here’s how it works. Say you have a retail presence and you want to target location-specific or IP address-specific shoppers near your store during the holidays. You could use proximity marketing to send out beacon-triggered discounts and offers to people when you want them to visit your store.

These offers generally apply to smartphones, but proximity marketing can work across multiple devices. The same is true for setting up online ads—whittle down campaigns by locations but keep multiple devices enabled.

You’ll end up with a more targeted audience, true. But you’ll also access that audience through a wider breadth of potential offers and advertisements.

Examples of ecommerce brands using cross-device marketing

It’s one thing to talk about cross-device marketing, but what does it look like in practice? Below, we’ve explored some of the brands already using cross-device marketing to target their potential customers.

Red Dress Boutique


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When Red Dress Boutique attempted a re-platforming from Magento to Shopify, there was a lot of testing to be done. One of the most surprising results of these tests was just how much of the shop didn’t work across multiple devices.

Before advertising on multiple devices, Red Dress Boutique had to address these issues. For instance, the menu wasn’t working for certain devices and browsers. And the boutique finally added a View Cart button for its desktop Shop the Look feature.

The results were cross-device success. Red Dress Boutique exists online, in person, and on social media influencers’ pages. And during the re-platforming to Shopify, it used the opportunity to address any holes in its cross-device strategies.

Emma Bridgewater


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It’s not that the Emma Bridgwater story is that unique—the brand had an “antiquated platform” and decided to add mobile ads and capabilities into the mix. But it was what Emma Bridgewater did behind the scenes that made its transformation remarkable.

It wasn’t just advertising. Emma Bridgewater built a new platform from top down, ensuring its images looked fresh on mobile and that it could sell in four major currencies, and updated its checkout processes for customers who wanted to finish an order on their smartphones.

The results were a 32% increase in mobile users and a 13% increase in mobile revenue after the update.

Making cross-device ad targeting work

For the customer, a cross-device ad targeting strategy is almost invisible. Behind the scenes, it takes some strategizing to make it work. But the result is always the same: reeling in more customers and creating a consistent brand experience that keeps people visiting.

Want to get your business advertising everywhere? Download our Omnichannel Commerce Guide to uncover everything you need to know about building a shop that pops in every dimension of the online world.

Cross-Device Advertising FAQs

What is cross-device advertising?

Cross-device advertising is marketing aimed at creating a consistent message out to customers, no matter what device they’re using.

The goal is typically to engage customers at multiple touchpoints, consistent with an omnichannel strategy, and drive customers to your ecommerce store. The approach can pay dividends in yielding new customer data and insights, and improving return on ad spend (ROAS).

Why do I need cross-device advertising?

Shoppers are increasingly cross-device customers. In America, 86% of people go online daily using mobile. Throw in desktop computers, smart speakers, television sets, and streaming services, and you have a customer who is exposed to all sorts of digital advertising as a matter of daily routine.

Cross-device advertising seeks to build consistency with customers no matter what device they’re using—or to target a specific kind of device that’s particularly beneficial for your store’s marketing budget.

What are the advantages of cross-device advertising?

Cross-device advertising can drive high engagement or help you meet more of your target audience on their turf. It also gives you access to more data to help you discover when customers convert the most—whether at home on a laptop or on the road with a mobile phone.

There is an increasingly cookie-less world coming down the pike. In 2023, Google plans to do away with tracking cookies altogether, which will throw a wrench in most companies’ retargeting plans. Using cross-device advertising can help ecommerce stores identify their core customers and optimize their analytics to create marketing strategies that best suit what their customers want.

What are the key obstacles to overcome in cross-device advertising?

The first is understanding the shifting context, the probabilistic data and the deterministic data that comes with each device. For example, a customer might grow frustrated with an ad on a smart speaker because they’re not accustomed to hearing an ad before their weather report. On the other hand, a customer might feel fine watching ads using a low-cost streaming service—an option they selected themselves.

There’s also the danger of repeating yourself to each customer. If each impression costs a little bit of money but falls on deaf ears, it will lower the overall ROAS for that campaign. On the other hand, cross-device strategies like alerts about abandoned carts could prove effective in getting people to visit your store.

In short, finding the right balance of cross-device ads is paramount for any ecommerce store.

What if my current ad targeting is already working?

Keep doing it! But keep in mind that the sands may be shifting beneath your feet. What works in 2022 might not work in 2023—particularly with the rules of the increasingly cookie-less world.

Cross-device ad targeting has no prerequisites. There is no lower limit on how many devices you target, how much you spend, or how many different avenues you try. Ultimately, cross-device ad targeting is an exploratory strategy.

Your goal should be to discover the right mix of cross-device ads to propel customers to your checkout page.

About the author

Ashley R. Cummings

Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer, specializing in commerce, marketing, and SaaS. Connect with her on Twitter!

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