Google knows you bought shoes in store you shopped for on­line

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL LIEDTKE

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Google al­ready mon­i­tors your on­line shop­ping — but now it’s also keep­ing an eye on what you’re buy­ing in phys­i­cal stores to try to sell more dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing.

Google’s com­put­ers will be try­ing to con­nect the dots be­tween what peo­ple look at af­ter click­ing on an on­line ad and what they pur­chase with their credit and debit cards at one of the ad­ver­tiser’s brick-and-mor­tar stores.

For in­stance, if some­one search­ing for a pair of run­ning shoes on­line clicked on an ad from a sport­ing goods store but didn’t buy any­thing, an ad­ver­tiser might ini­tially con­clude that the ad was a waste of money. With the new tool, Google says it will now be able to tell if the same per­son bought the shoes a few days later at a phys­i­cal store.

Google says it has ac­cess to roughly 70 per cent of U.S. credit and debit card trans­ac­tions through part­ner­ships with other com­pa­nies that track that data. By scan­ning this data, Google says it can au­to­mat­i­cally in­form mer­chants when their dig­i­tal ads trans­late into sales at a brick-and­mor­tar store.

If the pro­gram works, it could help per­suade mer­chants to boost their dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing bud­gets.

But it could also deepen wor­ries among pri­vacy watch­dogs, who are al­ready con­cerned about the dig­i­tal dossiers that Google has com­piled on users of its search engine and other ser­vices, in­clud­ing Gmail, YouTube and An­droid.

The com­pany al­ready runs the world’s big­gest on­line ad net­work, one that raked in US$79 bil­lion in rev­enue last year. That puts it in the best po­si­tion to cap­ture any ad­di­tional mar­ket­ing dol­lars spent on com­put­ers and mo­bile de­vices.

Google un­veiled the store-sales mea­sure­ment tool Tues­day in San Fran­cisco at an an­nual con­fer­ence it hosts for its ad­ver­tis­ers.

Google is also in­tro­duc­ing new ways to help mer­chants drive more traf­fic to their phys­i­cal stores, such as by dis­play­ing lo­ca­tions of nearby stores when watch­ing ads on YouTube, some­thing Google al­ready does for non­video ads. Other tools are aimed at giv­ing mer­chants a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing on how dig­i­tal ads ap­pear­ing across a va­ri­ety of de­vices are af­fect­ing their sales.

Most of th­ese new an­a­lyt­ics draw upon Google’s in­roads in “ma­chine learn­ing” — a way of “train­ing” com­put­ers to be­have more like hu­mans — to in­ter­pret the data. Google’s search engine and Chrome web browser are a rich source of data about peo­ple’s in­ter­ests and on­line ac­tiv­i­ties that it can feed into ma­chine-learn­ing sys­tems.

Just last week, Google un­veiled new ways that ma­chine learn­ing can help peo­ple iden­tify flow­ers or pull up restau­rant re­views just by point­ing a cam­era. Now, Google is show­ing how it plans to use ma­chine learn­ing to make more money. Google al­ready knows what you like based on the searches you make and the videos you watch. On­line ads are then tar­geted to those in­ter­ests. From there, Google can tell when you click on an ad and if you make an on­line pur­chase based on that.

The new pro­gram takes that track­ing into phys­i­cal stores.

Google says its com­put­ers can col­lect iden­ti­fy­ing data trig­gered by on­line clicks and match it with other iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion com­piled by mer­chants and the is­suers of credit and debit cards to fig­ure out when a dig­i­tal ad con­trib­utes to an off-line pur­chase.

Google’s tool won’t work for cash pay­ments or the 30 per cent of U.S. card trans­ac­tions that Google can’t cur­rently ac­cess.

Shop­pers re­main anony­mous, mean­ing they aren’t iden­ti­fied by their names, ac­cord­ing to Google. And the com­pany says it doesn’t share any of its anonymized in­for­ma­tion with its cus­tomers; in­stead, it tar­gets ads at in­di­vid­u­als who fit de­mo­graphic profiles sought by ad­ver­tis­ers.

Google gives its users the op­tion to limit the com­pany’s track­ing and con­trol what types of ads they are shown — although in prac­tice, rel­a­tively few users tweak such set­tings.

Google claims ac­cess to 70 per cent of U.S. credit and debit card trans­ac­tions.


Google will be­gin us­ing data from bil­lions of credit and debit card trans­ac­tions to con­nect be­tween on­line ads and sales in brick-and-mor­tar stores.

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