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Retailers can go Google, or they can go mobile

Evan Schuman | Aug. 11, 2017
Being able to track shoppers as they move from online to in-store has been a marketing goal for years. Google says it has an answer. You just have to trust it blindly.

Retailers can go Google, or they can go mobile
Adam Hunger/Reuters (Reuters)

One of the top marketing analytics goals for retailers has, for years, been the single view of the customer. That means being able to identify shoppers as they move from desktop to mobile to in-store and when they phone a call center. A mobile device that typically stays with a person at almost all times has been seen by many as the answer-and it is.

But Google has been pushing an alternative theory, which is to trust it blindly. It doesn't quite phrase it that way, but that's where it ends up. On Monday (July 31), a major privacy organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission asking federal officials to look into a Google program that extracts data from payment card records.

Here's where things get dicey. The idea is that Google, through an undisclosed third party, has access to "70 percent of transactions for credit and debit cards in the United States," The Washington Postsaid.

Its story quotes Jerry Dischler, vice president of product management for AdWords, Google's online advertising service, saying, "Through a mathematical property, we can do double-blind matching between their data and our data. Neither gets to the see the encrypted data that the other side brings."

The approach is apparently based on a 2011 research paper from three MIT scientists, a project funded by Google and Citigroup, Dischler said.


No purchase data revealed?

In an attempt to buttress its privacy argument, Google argues that the data is aggregated and that it reveals nothing about an individual shopper's purchases.

And that's where the logic of all of this falls apart. If the data is truly aggregated throughout the process, then it would show nothing. If would say that tens of millions of people looked at ads online and that millions of them made in-store purchases. If aggregated throughout, it couldn't know whether they were the same people or what kind of a time lag existed or much else useful.

What would make more sense-slightly-is if the data were linked initially, by this third party, and then made anonymous by the time it's shared with Google.

You know what's fun about double-blind? It replaces verifiable data with numbers that the end user must take on faith. And what possible incentive would Google have for indicating that its expensive services are more effective than they are? I can't think of any, he said, trying to keep a straight face.

The truth is mobile is the only viable way to connect the dots between online and in-store activity. Well, not just mobile, but mobile is the link. The eventual answer lies in mobile (to flag when this mobile or online shopper materializes in-store), digital video analytics (Amazon Go's efforts of using in-store video cameras to interpret what actions people are taking in the aisles is a good example) and then looking at the time stamps from POS data.


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