By Ellie-Rose Davies, Content Executive at IMRG

The shift from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) came into full effect this month, and online retailers are trying their best to navigate the benefits and potential setbacks it has brought for them.

IMRG held a GA4 event last month, which enabled retailers to share their tips, fears, and expectations for this change. Here are some of the takeaways from the session that will aid your experience:

  • ‘Explore’– This new feature found on the left-hand menu in GA4 allows retailers to create ad-hoc reports and provides the opportunity for a much deeper analysis of their customer data.
    However, the deeper analysis adds to the complexity of GA4, where retailers expressed that the new software seems more designed for analysts than marketers. The retailers said retail analysts should make a good sense of it and set it up so that marketers can use it.
  • ‘Insights’ – GA4’s Insights feature highlights key findings from reports, meaning that essential customer insights are less likely to be missed. These insights are automated and customised, which means GA4 will always highlight significant insights, but retailers can also create conditions that will trigger them if something changes. This type of feature makes sense for GA4 given the rise of AI.
  • It “lags” – Retailers expressed concern about the time lag in GA4, and the revenue metric seems to be lagging the most. This concern can be understood, given that this will directly impact a retailer’s ability to pull information when required. Through the integration period from UA to GA4, retailers have learned to expect delays of 48-72 hours. There was a split in the room, where it has affected some retailers but not others. Part of the answer may relate to the settings that are / are not enabled.
  • Data sources – As retailers are getting used to GA4, some are taking their backend data and using it on other platforms to create a source of truth. While this method still does not facilitate 100% accurate information, some retailers shared how it can be better than the GA4 front end. With multiple means of looking at customer data, the process of understanding the customer simultaneously becomes clearer, as you can validify GA4 data, and more confusing, as retailers are having to balance multiple sources that claim the “truth.”
  • Channels – Retailers expressed how they are happy with the structure and ability of the channels section in GA4, which reveals how much traffic is coming to your site. A retailer considered the new channel ability much more retrospective than UA, uncovering its usefulness for retailers today. There are also more channels added to the mix, such as the new focus on paid. Also, considering that many customers use their mobile to interact with retailers, it is good that GA4 now includes SMS and mobile push notifications.
  • Learn, learn, learn! – Retailers emphasised the necessity to keep learning about GA4, especially as UA phases out for good. One of the most recommended ways of learning about GA4 was through LinkedIn training courses. You can also develop your knowledge using REO’s ‘Google Analytics 4 Training.’

All of the extra features highlighted here, as well as the new focus on ‘events’ rather than ‘sessions’, complements Ana Brigas’, VAT Consultant at Sovos, comment: The number of features available on GA4 can seem daunting, which highlights its power and potential and why a prompt migration from UA makes good business sense.’

‘By fully replacing UA with GA4, it’s now far easier to track and measure your customers’ online journey and experience accurately. Yet, data conversion can be time-consuming.’

‘However, unlike UA,’ says Ana, ‘GA4 allows better tracking of website and app traffic using first-party cookies. Data is more consistent and it’s possible to reduce the risk of tax authority audits as GA4 has better data visualisation capabilities. In GA4, an event must be set up and marked as conversion, requiring technical knowledge for complex conversions.’

A positive twist – Engagement rates

A great focus has been on engagement rates rather than bounce rates. Many UK retailers experiencing high bounce rates due to the cost-of-living crisis will be thrilled with this much more positive study of customer behaviour.

While bounce rates are still available in the explore section of GA4, the new focus on engagement and refined definition of a ‘bounce’ means that retailers and industry experts, including IMRG, will have to be aware of how this may affect trend lines. Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director at IMRG recently reflected on this:

Gavin Murphy, CMO at Scurri reflects on the positivity of this shift; ‘Compared to the more one-dimensional view of webpage views offered by UA, GA4 gives retailers a more granular way of measuring interaction and engagement metrics, from which insight can be used to improve customer journeys and shape campaigns.’

‘However, while there will be improved engagement metrics available on the GA4 platform, retailers will still need to look at how they integrate additional data feeds and data sources from their omnichannel operating systems that can supplement their single customer or 360-degree shopper view’, says Gavin.

Gavin urges retailers to ‘Remember that customer engagement continues beyond the buy button. Sales communication such as highlighting other products within delivery tracking emails and offering additional and valuable insights that take place off the website can be used to enhance customer experience and dial-up performance.’

The setbacks of GA4

Despite GA4’s superior capabilities, retailers have expressed caution about change and are having numerous conversations about how to best optimise their data without experiencing unnecessary setbacks.

Rachel McGuigan, Head of Data & Insights at Mediaworks shares how ‘There are a few factors that can lead to discrepancies in GA4 data, which have raised concerns and decreased confidence in different companies.’

‘An example of this is that Google applies a mechanism called thresholding to protect user privacy. It withholds data in situations where the algorithm detects a potential risk of identifying an individual by their demographics or interests. This thresholding feature is typically activated when the user count is low or over a short data range, and the threshold limit falls within the range of 35–40 users or events count.’

What do you think of GA4?

IMRG will be holding another GA4 event, so keep your eyes peeled on our events page to register.

Want to read more? Here are some other IMRG blogs which cover a range of ecommerce topics:

Peak Season Predictions: The Big Trends To Watch – IMRG

Check It Out: Tactics To Offer A Unique Checkout Experience – IMRG

How Digital Wallets Could Impact Your Data Quality – IMRG

Ecommerce H1 Review: What Happened & What’s Coming? – IMRG

Gamification In Retail: How & Why It Works – IMRG

Published 25/07/2023

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