A few weeks ago, Google shut down a project called Google Here that would have used Google Maps as a way to get around local retailers’ difficulties in sending notifications to their users. (As reported by The Verge and Fortune.)

For Google, the ability to tie their online advertising to in-store sales, which after all still represent more than 90% of all retail, is a big deal. So this makes sense.

iBeacons (and Google’s version, Eddystone), let a phone know its very exact location — down to within a few centimeters. A typical use case is to pop up a coupon on a customer’s phone when they enter a store, for example. Or even make it extremely specific: Pop up a coupon when they get near a particular item.

But actually using this technology is not easy.

  • First of all, you have to get a user to install your app. Given that most retailers don’t have apps, this is a deal-killer by itself.
  • Even if you as a retailer do have an app, you have to keep it installed on your users’ devices. You can always rely on inertia, but really what you need is some kind of content program that backs the app, or some great value that you’re providing to your users.
  • And on top of that, users have to give you permission to use location services on their phone.

Without any one of these things, you can’t send local messages.

Google Maps would have been an ideal platform for this. One app that acts as a channel, that retailers could then use to do this location-based marketing. Much easier to fulfill all three requirements. It wouldn’t even have been totally necessary for a retailer to produce their own app for this to work. And it would have been key for Google to connect online to offline data.

So why was it shut down?

1) Potentially too invasive. A terrible outcome for Google would have been that users’ reluctance to be bothered by in-store advertising — part of the reasoning behind not installing apps on their phones in the first place — would spill over to Google Maps.

2) Google wasn’t sure if retailers would use it. Digital marketing technologies are very, very hard even for large retailers to use effectively. As McKinsey points out,

While over 70 percent of companies believe that digital marketing holds significant potential, more than half struggle to measure its exact impact on sales and profits.

In its dataset, McKinsey is targeting large-ish companies with a social media presence. And more than half of those haven’t been able to realize digital marketing’s potential – at least not in a measurable way. Imagine how difficult it must be for small retailers.

The key to all of this would be producing truly relevant, high quality offers that consumers are happy to receive. That would solve the invasiveness problem. But given how difficult it is to do good digital marketing at all, I doubt very much that retailers would have been able to do this effectively.