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What Google’s Attribution Improvements Mean For Brick-And-Mortars — And Its Rivals

It appears to be the one place location attribution providers haven't gone: Google plans to connect credit and debit card spending to close the gap between digital and physical sales.

Google’s dominance in search, online advertising, and mapping has made it the indispensable for store brands that want to be found. Now, Google is promising to close the loop around whether all its digital tools are working when it comes to driving online-to-offline sales.

In introducing Google Attribution at its two-day Google Marketing Next developer event this week, the search giant touts a secret weapon that competing digital-to-physical measurement providers tend to lack: access to 70 percent of U.S. consumers’ credit card and debit card transactions.

“If you collect email information at the point-of-sale for your loyalty program, you can import store transactions directly into AdWords yourself or through a third-party data partner,” according to a description of the new service on the Google AdWords blog. “And even if your business doesn’t have a large loyalty program, you can still measure store sales by taking advantage of Google’s third-party partnerships, which capture approximately 70 percent of credit and debit card transactions in the United States. There is no time-consuming setup or costly integrations required on your end. You also don’t need to share any customer information. After you opt in, we can automatically report on your store sales in AdWords.”

The program is currently in beta and will be rolled out over the next few months.

While it’s unclear whether this presents new privacy implications for Google and its clients, the issue of balancing relevancy and consumers’ detailed purchase history is a perennial problem for the marketing industry at large.

Recently, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Mobile Marketing Association have sought to address that balance by working with the Media Ratings Council on developing best practices for the use of location data and online/offline information.

Killing Last Click

For Google, the goal is to gain more trust from brands who advertise across its products by proving that it can deliver direct sales.

The program also takes aim at the enduring problem of “last click attribution,” which tends to credit the last ad a consumer saw before making a purchase decision. The problem with last crediting the last click is that it ignores all the other points that have influenced the path-to-purchase. As a result, ad prices have tended to remain fairly low, particularly since barely 1 percent of consumers even bother to click on an ad whether they are on their desktop or portable devices.

Furthermore, as connected intelligence products and platforms such as Alexa’s Echo and Alexa or Google Now and Google Assistant enter the mainstream, the idea of clicking on an ad or browsing a list of search results is giving way to direct answers to consumers’ shopping questions.

Attribution Wars Heat Up

At the same time, a number of platform companies and location marketing specialists have sought to promote their own solutions to whether their ads work for brick-and-mortar locations, which is still where 90 percent of consumer purchases occur.

In March, discount shopping app Retale rolled out its “Store Traffic Guarantee” for ad campaigns on its platform a week after location marketplace xAd released its Cost-Per-Visit ad format with Applebee’s and The Home Depot. Both Retale’s and xAd’s pay-for-performance guarantees are being validated by attribution platform Placed. That company’s  Placed Attribution insights are based on a panel model that includes 2.5 million active, double opted-in mobile app users — a number that the company has noted represents 1 in 100 adults in the U.S.

Before that, the launch of Foursquare Analytics was in keeping with the company’s positioning as a provider of location intelligence and online-to-offline attribution services. its most recent product is intended as a complement to existing tools Pinpoint, which provides cross-channel insights for real-time programmatic media buying and planning; Attribution, a panel-based system that collects place-data on the more than 8 billion check-ins users of the flagship discovery app Foursquare and its companion, Swarm; and Place Insights, which turns the Big Data from Foursquare Attribution into actionable uses for its brand and agency partners.

But perhaps the biggest threat pushing Google deeper into attribution has been Facebook’s stepped up efforts to serve SMBs’ and enterprises’ online/offline marketing needs. The social network’s inauguration last June of its Offline Conversions API allows businesses to match transaction data from their customer database or point-of-sale system to Facebook’s Ads Reporting function.

Google Takes Aim

The offer presented by Google Attribution to brick-and-mortar clients does appear simple and attractive. It claims that attribution measurement will make it possible for every marketer to assess the impact of their marketing across devices and across channels — all in one place, and at no additional cost.

“With today’s complex customer journey, your business might have a dozen interactions with a single person — across display, video, search, social, and on your site or app,” Google said. “And all these moments take place on multiple devices, making them even harder to measure.”

Marketers have been trying to make attribution work for years, “but existing solutions just don’t cut it,” the search giant additionally claims, asserting that most programs “Are hard to set up; Lose track of the customer journey when people move between devices; and Aren’t integrated with ad tools, making it difficult to take action.”

And in Google’s view, that all results in reliance on “the last click” before a purchase.

For Google, as well as the industry, it’s been a steady progression toward tying online ads and searches to in-store traffic and sales.

Over the past three years, Google has offered tools like Promoted Places and local inventory ads to showcase special offers and what’s in-stock at nearby stores. it also smoothed the product discovery path by helping people find a store via  YouTube video ads using its location extensions.

The company first introduced store visits measurement back in 2014 to help marketers gain more insight about consumer journeys that start online and end in a store. Since then, according to Google, advertisers globally have measured over 5 billion store visits using AdWords.

While users worried about Google tracking their location and their credit/debit transactions can opt-out of Google Attribution, the value of finding what the products they want, and the appeal of loyalty-based discounts being presented in AdWords, on YouTube, and in their Gmails, will make the pull hard for shoppers to resist.