Oct 2023

GA4 Offline Refund Events

With GA4, triggering a purchase event on checkout completion is straightforward1:

  {
    transaction_id: "T_12345_1",
    value: 25.42,
    tax: 4.90,
    shipping: 5.99,
    currency: "USD",
    items: ...
  }

If a user cancels their order or removes an item, you can simply send a refund event2.

The sum of these events - purchases minus refunds - is reflected in Reports > Total Revenue.

How can you report on refund events which don't happen in the browser? It is fairly common for a user to cancel their order over the phone or for an order to get flagged as fraud.

You can upload a CSV of transaction_id's3. The obvious drawback is that you need to manage refunds manually. Another caveat:

You should wait 24 - 48 hours before importing the refund data to make sure the original transaction is present in the account.

The Google Analytics Measurement Protocol for Google Analytics 4 enhances measurement for web and app streams by sending events directly to Google Analytics servers in HTTP requests. You can record server-to-server and offline interactions, and send them as Measurement Protocol events to Google Analytics, where they can be viewed in reports.4

This seems like the ideal solution for programatically sending "offline" refund events.

How to validate the request

The Google Analytics Measurement Protocol for Google Analytics 4 does not return HTTP error codes

You will need to validate your API request using the Event Builder UI5 or by calling the validation endpoint: /debug/mp/collect.

What data do you need to send?

The schema is roughly:

  {
    "client_id": "client_id",
    "events": [{
      "name": "refund",
      "params": {
        "currency": "USD",
        "transaction_id": "T_12345_1",
        "value": 12.21,
      }
    }]
  }

client_id is a unique identifier stored by GA4 in the _ga cookie and looks something like GA1.2.908899769.16000200186. If you have BigQuery linked to GA4, it shows up as user_pseudo_id.

You can retreive the client_id from the cookie and store it in your database at checkout time, or by querying BigQuery:

SELECT
  user_pseudo_id AS client_id,
  params.value.string_value AS transaction_id
FROM
  `MY_ANALYTICS_TABLE.events_*`,
  UNNEST(event_params) params
WHERE
  params.key = 'transaction_id'
  AND params.value.string_value IN ("T_12345_1")

Open Questions

  • Why does the refund event require a client_id, isn't the transaction_id enough? The CSV upload doesn't require a client_id.
  • Why is there no way to batch refund events for multiple users?
  • Do I need to wait 48 hours after a purchase before sending a refund event? The CSV upload has this requirement, but it's unclear if it applies to the Measurement Protocol as well.
  • If I send a refund event before a purchase event gets ingested, does it get discarded?

👉 A timestamp can be added using the timestamp_micros. However, the protocol only supports timestamps less than 72 hours ago. If you have to wait 48 hours to send a refund event, the refund timestamp might be stale by the time it reaches the API, causing the event to get rejected.

I haven't figured out how to inspect individual refund events in the GA4 UI using Explore since the UI is shockingly bad. Instead, I'm using the BigQuery integration to verify that events are coming in correctly. The queries I've been using:

Refund events for a specific day

  SELECT
    user_pseudo_id,
    event_timestamp AS refund_timestamp,
    event_name AS refund_event_name,
    (SELECT value.string_value FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'transaction_id') AS refund_transaction_id,
    (SELECT COALESCE(value.int_value, value.double_value) FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'value') AS refund_amount
  FROM
    `MY_ANALYTICS_TABLE.events_*`
  WHERE
    event_name = 'refund'
    AND event_date = '20230926'

Refund events with matching purchase events for a specific day

  WITH purchases AS (
    SELECT
      user_pseudo_id,
      event_timestamp AS purchase_timestamp,
      event_name AS purchase_event_name,
      (SELECT value.string_value FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'transaction_id') AS purchase_transaction_id,
      (SELECT COALESCE(value.int_value, value.double_value) FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'value') AS purchase_amount
    FROM
      `MY_ANALYTICS_TABLE.events_*`
    WHERE
      event_name = 'purchase'
  ),
  refunds AS (
    SELECT
      user_pseudo_id,
      event_timestamp AS refund_timestamp,
      event_name AS refund_event_name,
      (SELECT value.string_value FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'transaction_id') AS refund_transaction_id,
      (SELECT COALESCE(value.int_value, value.double_value) FROM UNNEST(event_params) WHERE key = 'value') AS refund_amount
    FROM
      `MY_ANALYTICS_TABLE.events_*`
    WHERE
      event_name = 'refund'
      AND event_date = '20230926'
  )
 
  SELECT
    r.user_pseudo_id,
    r.refund_timestamp,
    r.refund_event_name,
    r.refund_transaction_id,
    r.refund_amount,
    p.purchase_timestamp,
    p.purchase_event_name,
    p.purchase_transaction_id,
    p.purchase_amount
  FROM
    refunds r
  LEFT JOIN
    purchases p
  ON
    p.purchase_transaction_id = r.refund_transaction_id

  1. https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/ga4/set-up-ecommerce

  2. https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/ga4/ecommerce?client_type=gtag#make_a_purchase_or_issue_a_refund

  3. https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/6066862

  4. https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/protocol/ga4

  5. https://ga-dev-tools.google/ga4/event-builder/

  6. The client_id is everything after GA1.1. or GA1.2.