It’s tough to dispute the benefits of tag management systems. They’re pretty much essential in effectively managing digital ecosystems, particularly at a time when marketers are increasingly motivated- through regulatory controls, changing consumer demands, and increased digital complexity that requires internal governance- to better manage the data they are collecting. 

And yet tag management systems (TMS) have not achieved full adoption across the top 1,000 internet retailers (IR1000). In a recent Cardinal Path report, State of Digital Marketing Analytics in the Top 1,000 Internet Retailers, the data show that adoption has generally increased YoY from 2017 in the lower 500 retailers, with a sizeable 20% gain in the 250 smallest organizations. 

It’s surprising in some ways, but also consistent with the gaps in digital maturity that are still in play across many enterprise organizations. The State of Digital Marketing Analytics report’s lead author, Nick Iyengar, Group Director, Digital Intelligence, Cardinal Path, urged organizations to implement a tag management system back in 2016 in a MarTech Today article and outlined a basic set of benefits and costs to consider. “I’d go so far as to say that a TMS is practically a prerequisite to managing analytics efficiently, and ultimately to deriving serious value from analytics at all,” said Iyengar at the time. 

Ultimately, “long-term benefits outweigh any short-term costs.”

With that in mind, here’s an overview of the adoption of TMS platforms in the leading online retailers: 

Overall Tag Management System Adoption: 2017 vs 2018

For the first year since we started reporting on digital marketing trends, TMS adoption has decreased in the Top 250, falling 36% in the Top 50 from 2017. The decline in adoption in the top tier is perhaps due to the fact that six of the Top 50 companies were different in 2018 and, of these new entries, none are using the TMS platforms included in the ObservePoint scan. 

Looking at the vendor landscape, GTM gained ground across the entire IR1000, even increasing adoption in the Top 50 (+6%) to oust Adobe from the number two ranking. With GTM nipping at its heels, Tealium continues to be the most popular choice amongst the Top 50 retailers with 22% adoption, although down 2% YoY from 2017. 

Tag Management Systems in the Top 1,000 Internet Retailers

The increased prevalence of GTM, in parallel with the dominance of Google Analytics across the IR1000, prompts the question: does an organization’s choice of TMS drive the choices they make for the rest of their tech stack, in particular, their analytics tool? Of the retailers using GTM as their primary TMS, 61% are using Google Analytics; of the organizations using Adobe’s Dynamic Tag Management (DTM), 94% are using Adobe Analytics. As such, it does appear that the key to winning penetration in the analytics market is to “get in on the ground floor” by convincing an organization to either adopt a TMS, or switch out of its incumbent TMS. 

The trend of tech stack consolidation continues, as marketers aim to take advantage of the synergies created by an integrated stack. Interestingly, of the companies using Google Analytics, 2.8% have both GTM and DTM installed, while 11.3% of Adobe Analytics users have installed both GTM and DTM.

Google Tag Manager vs. Adobe Dynamic Tag Management

Finally, it’s worth noting that Tealium continues to show strongly within the Top 50 and the Top 250. While there are obvious benefits to a TMS that’s natively integrated with analytics and testing platforms, some organizations are also seeing the benefits of an “independent” TMS. For example, by building out enterprise-wide analytics logic in Tealium, an organization is relatively free to swap out analytics and testing tools, e.g. Google Analytics for Adobe Analytics, or vice versa. While most organizations likely aren’t actively considering switching from one analytics platform to another (these changes tend to happen infrequently – once every several years, at most), the reduction of vendor lock-in is a real benefit that some organizations value highly.

Read the full State of Digital Marketing Analytics Report for more insights into the martech stacks of the top 1,000 internet retailers.