No advertising channel in the history of our industry has ever grown as quickly as retail media. Global revenue from retail media spending is expected to reach $125.7 billion in 2023. By 2028, retail media spend will surpass TV spending and account for more than 15 percent of total ad spend.
These days, about 75% of brands have dedicated budgets for retail media networks, and that’s just the beginning. So what do today’s marketers need to know about retail media networks and how to make the most of this tremendous and fast-growing opportunity?
Table of Contents
- What Is Retail Media?
- Why Did Retail Media Networks Become So Popular?
- Who Are the Dominant Players in Retail Media?
- Why is Retail Media Advertising Important?
- How Do Retail Media Networks Work?
- How Do You Pick the Right Retail Media Network?
- What Will the Future of Retail Media Look Like?
- How Can Retail Media Complement an Omnichannel Advertising Strategy?
What Is Retail Media?
At its most basic level, retail media advertising refers to advertising on retailer websites and apps. Perhaps most famously embodied in Amazon Sponsored Products ads, retail media advertising involves the targeted placement of brand ads and promotions to engage shoppers directly at the point of purchase intent. By effectively blending commerce and advertising, retail media enables brands to drive a seamless purchase experience.
Retail media networks serve as the engine behind retail media’s growth. These are the advertising services offered by retail and other commerce brands that enable third-party brands to advertise (and typically directly sell) their products on a retailer’s site or within its app or marketplace. For example, someone searching for “dish soap” on a grocery retailer’s site might see a complete listing of the dish soaps sold on that retailer’s site. But at the top of the page, Dawn might be featured as a sponsored listing, commanding the shopper’s immediate attention with a higher placement and more visually rich treatment. That is an example of retail media in action, and the native integration of these ads into the shopper experience offers value for shoppers and brands alike.
Why Did Retail Media Networks Become So Popular?
Retail media’s growth aligns with multiple trends that have been underway for more than a decade, but it was accelerated in the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the significant surge in e-commerce spending. No longer were people browsing products in store aisles. Rather, that behavior shifted to online retail portals, and advertising budgets followed suit.
Retail media’s popularity also aligns with current shifts in consumer privacy because it relies on a retailer’s permissioned first-party data vs. third-party sources. That’s why retail media networks have sprung up so quickly: They’re a fantastic way for retailers with large enough customer bases to put their own data to use for added revenue, without having to rely on soon-to-be-irrelevant third-party cookies.
Finally, retail media also offers advertisers the opportunity to better personalize their offers and ads to the needs of the consumer. Because of the robust first-party data that powers retail media, advertisers can ensure they’re only showing relevant ads to consumers with high intent in their categories — a win-win for brands and shoppers alike.
Who Are the Dominant Players in Retail Media?
The retail media network landscape is becoming more crowded with every passing day, as more and more retailers look to put their first-party data to use as an added revenue stream. However, the space is currently dominated by a small handful of powerhouses, including:
Amazon’s retail media network, Amazon Advertising, stands out due to its unparalleled access to a vast and diverse customer base, extensive shopping data, and sophisticated targeting capabilities. Through its industry-leading e-commerce platform, Amazon offers advertisers the opportunity to reach consumers at various touchpoints throughout their purchasing process, from product discovery to checkout.
eBay’s retail media network distinguishes itself through its dynamic marketplace that accommodates a wide array of product categories and a global user base. eBay offers advertisers a diverse range of engagement opportunities, from its promoted listings to traditional display ads to more immersive and interactive formats. Leveraging the platform’s search and browsing data, advertisers can tailor their campaigns to highly specific consumer segments.
Walmart’s retail media network, Walmart Connect, distinguishes itself through its integration of both physical and digital retail spaces, encompassing its extensive chain of brick-and-mortar stores as well as its e-commerce platform. Walmart’s retail media network offers brands the opportunity to engage consumers not only during their online shopping journeys but also during in-store visits, thereby creating a seamless and omnichannel advertising experience.
Instacart’s retail media network stands out due to its focus on online grocery shopping. With its platform facilitating the delivery of groceries and everyday essentials from various stores, Instacart possesses valuable insights into consumer purchasing habits, enabling advertisers to target their campaigns with precision. By offering sponsored placements and personalized recommendations within the shopping experience, Instacart’s retail media network has become an important means of capturing consumer attention within the evolving landscape of e-commerce and grocery delivery.
Similar to Walmart, Target’s retail media network focuses on the seamless integration of curated shopping experiences across its physical stores, online platform, and app. Target’s retail media network excels at creating cohesive brand journeys that span the digital and physical realms, enabling advertisers to engage customers at various stages of their purchase journey.
Why Is Retail Media Advertising Important?
Advertising via retail media represents an important part of the modern marketing playbook for several reasons. Importantly, it presents benefits to marketers in the face of the following larger industry trends:
1. The Pivot to First-Party Data
Retail media has emerged as a pivotal component of modern marketing strategies due to the paradigm shift away from third-party data and toward first-party data. This transition — made all the more urgent by the forthcoming deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome — has been prompted by growing concerns over privacy, data security, and evolving regulations. Retailers, possessing direct relationships with customers, have become custodians of valuable first-party data, which offers insights into consumer behaviors, preferences, and purchase patterns. By leveraging this data through retail media, brands can tailor their advertising efforts with precision.
2. Consumer Desire for Personalization
Retail media has also gained greater significance as consumer expectations increasingly demand personalized advertising experiences. By leveraging their understanding of individual preferences, purchase history, and browsing behavior, retail media empowers brands to curate advertisements that align precisely with each consumer’s interests. This level of tailored communication not only enhances engagement but also fosters a sense of connection between brands and customers.
3. The Need to Support a Multi-Stage Buying Journey
It’s also important to note that, while retail media has a reputation for performance due to its proximity to the point of purchase, it’s actually quite an effective tool when it comes to supporting the full-funnel buyer journey. In the early stages, it aids in building awareness and consideration through targeted advertisements that capture the attention of potential buyers. As consumers move toward decision-making, retail media can provide detailed product information, reviews, and comparisons, aiding in the evaluation process. Moreover, by facilitating re-engagement after purchase, it cultivates brand loyalty and encourages repeat business.
How Do Retail Media Networks Work?
Retail media networks operate as intricate ecosystems that enable brands to promote their products and services within the digital spaces of the retailer’s walls. Retailers tap into their extensive customer and behavioral data to identify relevant audiences, offering advertisers the opportunity to showcase their offerings to consumers with a higher likelihood of interest and intent. This can take the form of sponsored content, display ads, native advertisements, or other formats.
While most advertisers are familiar with retailer media power players like Amazon, Walmart, Target and others, the retailer media network landscape becomes more crowded every day as more retailers get a handle on their first-party data and build the advertising experiences and processes to let advertisers tap into the opportunity to connect with their customers. Because the retail media landscape is still in its early stages, every network’s opportunities look a little bit different. However, there are common features that many offer for advertisers’ consideration, including:
- Homepage ads
- Prioritization in search results and sponsored listings
- Category-level advertising
- Enhanced listings
- Display advertising, both on- and off-site, driven by the retailer’s data
Going forward, we can expect to see a wider array of advertising formats available across retail media networks, including enhanced video and audio options. In addition, as the landscape becomes more cluttered with individual networks, retailers should expect to see ad tech players roll out offerings designed to simplify and unify the buying process across properties.
How Do You Pick the Right Retail Media Network?
When selecting a retail media network, advertisers must carefully weigh several factors to ensure their campaigns yield optimal results.
First and foremost, understanding the network’s audience demographics and whether they align with the advertiser’s target market is paramount. Evaluating the network’s reach, engagement metrics, and the quality of its customer data helps ascertain its effectiveness in driving conversions. Advertisers should also inquire about the network’s technology infrastructure, ensuring it can handle the required scale and offer seamless user experiences.
By Advertising Formats
The available advertising formats and their suitability for conveying a brand’s message should also be considered. Some networks offer rich options, including video and detailed product listings, while others are more basic in nature.
By Access to Reporting and Measurement
Transparency in reporting and analytics is vital to assess a campaign’s performance accurately. Advertisers should ensure they’ll receive the data and insights they need to determine whether they’re meeting their KPIs and to optimize future campaigns.
Lastly, flexibility in terms of budget, campaign customization, and integration with the advertiser’s overall marketing strategy play a pivotal role in determining the right retail media network partner. Marketers must ensure the retail media networks they partner with are able to deliver meaningful results within the scope of their budget, while reducing wasted spend by avoiding repetitive or poorly targeted ads.
What Will the Future of Retail Media Look Like?
Today, advertising within retail media networks is rife with both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, the ability to connect with targeted, high-intent shoppers with relevant ads at the point of purchase is one that advertisers cannot afford to miss. At the same time, fragmentation and varying standards across the ever-fracturing digital landscape mean that advertisers are having to spend a tremendous amount of time and effort to exploring and activating across a number of networks.
Ultimately, these challenges will be addressed by new players and technologies, and advertisers will have to keep pace with changes in the space. At the same time, the future of retail media networks holds promise as a dynamic and transformative force in the advertising landscape. Areas to watch include the following:
- Personalization: As consumer expectations continue to evolve, retail media networks are poised to evolve into even more personalized and immersive platforms, particularly as they enhance their own first-party data understandings.
- Enhanced Data Use: Advancements in data analytics and AI will enable retailers to refine their targeting strategies, delivering hyper-relevant offers that resonate more deeply with individual consumers. Similar enhancements will also come to the campaign measurement and optimization space.
- Emerging Experiences: Integration of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences could offer more interactive and engaging advertising journeys.
- Deeper Integration: Collaborations between retailers and advertisers may deepen, yielding co-created content that enhances authenticity and engagement.
Ultimately, the future of retail media networks will be shaped by a blend of cutting-edge technology, consumer-centricity, improved practices, and deeper storytelling opportunities, heralding an era of more meaningful advertising interactions.
How Can Retail Media Complement an Omnichannel Advertising Strategy?
As a singular advertising opportunity, retail media is powerful. But this power grows exponentially when retail media is leveraged in the context of a broader omnichannel advertising strategy.
Retail media networks such as those offered by Walmart and Target enable advertisers to bridge the gap between digital and physical retail environments. Meanwhile, expansive players like Amazon can help connect the dots across not only the brand’s own properties, but also a growing array of off-site partners. Likewise, the retail giant has opened the doors to retail media networks serving as opportunities for both endemic and non-endemic retail media advertising.
Ultimately, though, the omnichannel opportunity extends further. By taking what brands learn about their customers via retail media advertising and extending those insights to other channels, advertisers can better connect with targets across the media landscape. Likewise, by bringing their own first-party data to the table to fuel their retail media strategies, brands can enhance their campaigns and ensure their customer journeys remain seamless, regardless of where a person chooses to purchase.
The Power of Retail Media
In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, the power of retail media advertising shines as a beacon of innovation and relevance. Retail media harnesses the wealth of first-party data and authentic relationships that retailers possess to power dynamic advertising that aligns with the complexities of the shifting data landscape.
Retail media establishes a bridge between brands and consumers, driving engagement, loyalty, and conversions. As we look to the future, the potential for retail media to reshape the advertising landscape is undeniable, ushering in an era of more authentic, effective, and customer-centric marketing strategies.