Unlocking the potential of Retail Media

Jody Veerman

Client Partner, Global Addressable Media team

Retail media has been the prevailing digital narrative in 2023. In a gloomy economic backdrop, it has brought an alluring promise of growth to stoke optimism in the digital ad industry. However, as with any new growth area, the initial excitement often overshadows the practical challenges that lie ahead.

The long-expected withdrawal of third-party cookies is considered a catalyst in the clamour for rich sources of data.  Retailers have awakened to the untapped value of their data assets, so brands, tech providers and new market entrants have readily leapt at the opportunity with the promise of early-mover advantage.

Navigating Hype and Learning from History

Retail media is dubbed the third and biggest wave of digital, so it's natural that we see a surge of anticipation as market players work hard to master the new paradigm first.

If we consider the preceding waves of digital growth, Google had to continuously refine its auction bidding algorithm over several years to maintain its dominance in paid search advertising. For social, Facebook picked up the baton to lead the sector through a series of transformative stages before unlocking its commercial potential.  It might be beneficial to appreciate the lessons learned from these early stages of nurture to settle on a measured approach and avoid the pitfalls of over promising. To be successful, you must fail, we're often told, and judging by the colourful retail landscape, there'll be plenty of opportunities to falter. The growth potential shares equal face of challenge and opportunity.

Pursuing Common Standards

In a Forrester survey to chief marketing officers, it was found that 21% of advertisers say managing too many networks was their biggest challenge. A further 31% said comparing performance across channels was their main bugbear.

The reality of buying retail media across EMEA has the potential to be more of a headache in a fragmented ecosystem with a patchwork approach. An optimum approach entails streamlining internal processes, establishing consistent ways of measurement and running ongoing tests to achieve scalability. Even after negotiating the initial hurdles, the daunting task of demonstrating incrementality soon arises. Relying solely on demonstrating ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) doesn’t tell the whole story, as it attributes revenue to purchases that may have occurred anyway. Therefore, a more in-depth analysis is essential to attain a true reflection of the value of your investment.   

Seeking Order Amidst Chaos

This autumn the IAB will publish a modular definition of retail media designed to help buyers to navigate the landscape. Their surveys will encompass data on each retailer in Europe culminating into a capability map showing the targeting and measurement options available. The industry craves some semblance of order to address the chaos, but it won't prevent big retailers doing their own thing. Attempting to draw performance comparisons between the 'walled gardens' is a thankless task and Amazon is in such a leading position that they can afford to simply forge their own path. Their ad revenue earnings report showed an increase of +22% YOY, which highlights how impregnable their garden walls can afford to be.

Exploring Opportunities

The most accessible retail media starting point is to harvest the low-hanging fruit. At the bottom of the funnel, advertisers can leap towards data signals coming from consumer search triggers, e.g., Amazon search. Alternatively, you can position your brand to where the consumer is on the cusp of pulling the purchase trigger, e.g., onsite retail via Criteo sponsored products. 

Natural evolution is to look beyond opportunities to influence the consumer mindset in the consideration stage.  Retail media buyers using self-serve DSP's have access to more and more retailer data which can be bolstered with third party data. Advertisers have long desired the ability to fully leverage their own first-party data, and adding layers of data could deliver the promised scalability. The DSP battleground will be fierce as they are ideally positioned to consolidate the various retailer data streams and let AI/machine learning take care of performance.

Evolving Ecosystem

With a DSP of its own, Amazon recently announced the creation of a partner network, expanding their reach to sites such as Pinterest and BuzzFeed. Criteo and The Trade Desk offer a similar proposition for scaling data beyond retailer sites. Striking a balance between seeking incremental sales and maintaining efficiency in the face of a potentially diluting ROAS becomes crucial. The social media walled gardens are doing their own thing as Meta continue to build on their retail products in the US, from testing local inventory ads to partnering with IRI to understand how its retailer-specific Meta campaigns drive omnichannel sales.

Closing Thoughts

There will be an abundance of new and shiny opportunities in retail media, but patience is essential, drawing from valuable lessons of the past. It is crucial to design a flexible model with a strategy underpinned by well aligned ad-tech. To deliver and sustain success, a provision for additional talent is needed that can integrate with wider media activities. 

The ongoing challenge to demonstrate business outcomes persists as the walled gardens continue to assert their dominance. It is a case of looking before you leap, as the path to full-funnel advertising can become a long and winding road without due consideration.