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GUEST COMMENT Attribution and analytics: how retail marketers can spot the difference

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Retail marketers are constantly seeking to understand what their customers do, both offline and online. What value does a consumer have? What drives them to conduct a purchase? How do shoppers interact with brands? Whether their efforts are aimed at acquiring new customers or retaining existing ones, understanding the data behind consumer actions is key to achieving effective marketing.

With mobile apps becoming increasingly important for retailers, marketers are becoming more reliant than ever on a robust tech stack to gather data, measure and optimise campaigns. When it comes to dissecting this data, analytics and attribution are often thought of as interchangeable — but while they’re both used to deliver insights on marketing strategies, their subtle differences are important to understand.

How to tell attribution and analytics apart

Attribution connects specific consumers actions back to the source from which they came. Simply put, it tells marketers where their customers come from, helping them determine which specific source was responsible for the desired outcome and assign value to it. On mobile performance specifically, attribution can tell a retail brand that a user installed their app because they saw a particular ad. This is critical information, as mobile marketers can use it to monitor and improve campaign performance, identify where to reinvest, and justify marketing budgets. Attribution can also help mobile marketers learn more about the impact of in-app events further along the sales funnel, including products viewed, items added to basket, or purchases made.

Analytics, on the other hand, enables retail marketers to better understand user interactions with a brand. It can help marketers identify the areas they need to optimise, such as product and services, user experience, conversion rates and more. For example, if a retail brand wanted to refine the user experience (UX) of its app, it could turn to analytics to unlock insights on consumer preferences and make informed changes.

Although these definitions provide an overview of how analytics and attribution are distinct from one another, there are further elements for mobile marketers to consider.

Gaining insights from different levels of the sales funnel

A key difference between analytics and attribution platforms is their ability to access data at different points along the sales funnel. By identifying patterns and trends across the different touchpoints, attribution can help mobile marketers build a narrative from data, giving them a full picture of where the consumer came from. There are multiple attribution models, however, making it helpful to know which ones offer the necessary data for specific contexts.

  • First-touch attribution assigns credit for a user action to the first time a consumer engages with an ad or touchpoint. While first-touch attribution works for measuring top-of-the-funnel activity, it doesn’t account for the fact that multiple exposures are needed to drive a conversion.

  • Last-touch attribution is when the final touchpoint is given credit for a user completing an action. This method can undervalue other touchpoints and it doesn’t offer mobile marketers the ability to construct a complete narrative of the consumer journey.

  • Multi-touch attribution measures the impact of all touchpoints, from the first impression to the final action, and can assign a value to each. It enables mobile marketers to understand which media sources motivated user actions and where that sits in the funnel, which can inform decisions around media and budget allocation.

By understanding the finer details of how attribution works, retail marketers can then concentrate on performance metrics, including app installs, conversion rates, engagement, revenue spend, and more. Analytics platforms manage and report on these, letting mobile marketers disseminate available data to uncover patterns and trends. With these actionable insights, retail marketers can deploy highly optimised campaigns.

It’s all about the ecosystem

Enabling accurate attribution for mobile marketing depends on a whole interconnected ecosystem, consisting of technology providers, media owners, and ad networks. To deliver effective measurement capabilities and attribution science, it is important for marketers to work with an unbiased, independent measurement partner. The mobile ecosystem is complex, with numerous players involved, so marketers need a go-to solution that doesn’t have any conflicts of interests and that can easily deliver insights in real-time.

Analytics relies on attribution data

Analytics is largely used to understand the fundamentals of performance in relation to data collected during a session – the combined user interactions that occur during a timeframe on a specific channel. While this provides useful insight, it doesn’t tell the full story of how those interactions became conversions thanks to your marketing efforts. To build in-depth insights, analytics platforms are required to drill into a mix of data sources. Here is where attribution comes in. A campaign that is supported by an attribution solution can join the dots between marketing efforts and a set of events or touchpoints, which gives marketers enriched insights that lead to better optimisations. For example, a retail brand would be able to determine not only which channels consumers prefer to use, but also which media sources generate the most impact on those channels.

This also lets mobile marketers specify granular metrics that truly demonstrate performance, for instance retention and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). Analytics can tell mobile marketers that users are spending more time with a retail app, while attribution lets them know what prompted this behaviour and where these users came from. Marketers can then apply these insights to boost user retention. Similarly, analytics can uncover uplifts in total purchase amounts, but attribution identifies which ads drove this so mobile marketers can allocate spend accordingly. As a result, attribution plays a central role in heightening user loyalty and revenue for retail brands.

With the customer journey being increasingly complex, analytics alone cannot give retailers a complete narrative. By supplementing analytics with attribution, mobile marketers can pinpoint the value of specific media channels for driving installs, retention, and sales. Together, analytics and attribution can build an accurate, holistic view of consumers across channels and devices, enabling mobile marketers to apply in-depth insights and implement highly effective campaigns.


Paul Wright, managing director, UK, FR, MENA, TR, AppsFlyer

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