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Retail media networks are creating a new layer to the relationship between brands and retailers, and a new report indicates that brands in particular are still navigating the growing pains.
The last two years brought fast growth of retail media networks, as retailers recognized the value of providing advertising opportunities through ecommerce marketplaces that grew rapidly during the pandemic, and the value of the first-party data they possessed in a world where third-party cookies and IDFA are becoming less valuable tools. For a historically low-margin business like retail, digital advertising also presents an opportunity for a high-margin business line of 50-70%.
Brands have proven to be eager adopters as they sought new ways to reach customers in this environment, as well. According to eMarketer, ad revenue from retail media networks will reach $52 billion in 2023 and $61 billion in 2024. Over the next two years, retail media will account for one in five digital ad dollars spent by marketers. The spend is only expected to grow. According to a survey from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), 73% of brands said they expect to be spending somewhat or significantly more on retail media in the future than they do today.
However, this proliferation has also created “more marketing decisionmaking complexity for advertisers,” ANA CEO Bob Liodice said in a new report.
The need to navigate multiple networks and still-developing tools to maximize the opportunity presented by retail media is leading to a multitude of approaches. Layer on top of that the fact that brands are both selling goods and advertising through retailers, and it’s clear the landscape is being reshaped.
A recent report from the Association of National Advertisers uncovered the areas where fault lines may emerge under the surface:
- Reluctant buyers: 88% believe they are somewhat or heavily influenced by retailers to buy advertising on retail media networks.
- A multitude of players: 56% said they are currently working with five or more different retail media networks.
- Differing goals: Two-thirds of respondents see driving conversion as the most important investment. Only 12% indicated the most important objective was “to invest for future brand growth,” and 7% cited “to drive awareness.”
The results underscore key areas where relationships between brands and retailers can be strengthened.
Sales vs. growth. Retail media must be able to drive both conversions of a single sale in the lower funnel, and brand equity growth in the mid- to upper-funnel.
As one respondent put it, "The jury is still out on if the RMNs are truly driving sales incrementality."
This also has implications for how a brand is budgeting retail media. Some brands are shifting dollars from shopper marketing, brand marketing, and trade spending, which could put the emphasis on short-term sales. But as another respondent put it, "There is concern that while attribution shows RMNs are driving brand sales, they are not necessarily driving brand growth. This is especially concerning where incremental RMN spending is being sourced from brand building budgets."
Standard measurement. Brands want to see an improvement in transparency in measurement. They also want results to be measured in the same ways across platforms. Further, brands believe retail media networks are not fully optimized for their KPIs.
This all leaves room for retailers to show they truly understand what brands are seeking from retail media, and show how they are delivering, all while reducing complexity.
As the report put it, “The next phase of growth for RMNs and value creation for brands will be through RMNs assuming shared responsibility with advertisers for driving brand growth, and demonstrating the ability of their platforms to drive incrementality and positive ROAS for brands. In other words, the next stage of growth will be driven by results versus relationships.”
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New advertising opportunities are being beta tested for in-store audio and product demos.
Retail media’s fast growth isn’t only limited to increasing spend. The advertising itself is also poised to appear in more places beyond ecommerce marketplaces, and even beyond the web.
The latest example comes from Walmart Connect, which is the retail media arm of the world’s largest retailer.
Walmart shared details on testing that it is completing for in-store retail media. To this point, Walmart Connect has been considered the advertising platform for Walmart’s ecommerce site. But these tests indicate that’s poised to expand.
Stores present a potent opportunity for Walmart. It has 4,700 big box locations around the U.S., and customers returned to them in droves last year. In 2022, 88% of the retailer’s customers visited Walmart stores.
Walmart Connect already has already dipped a toe into in-store advertising, with a TV wall, self-checkout ads and integrated marketing. The new pilots aim to take a step further.
“The next frontier of retail media is in-store experiences, and it’s one we’re excited to chart,” Whitney Cooper, head of omnichannel transformation at Walmart Connect, wrote in a blog post on the new tests. “But it’s still an emerging opportunity for us, as we continue to test what serves customers best and which solutions are scalable to Walmart’s size.”
Here’s a look at the two new offerings currently under beta test:
Walmart suppliers will be able to integrate product demos into campaigns across in-store and digital environments.
Product demos aren’t new to store floors, but Walmart Connect is seeking to give them an update that blends digital and physical experiences.
“Part of our test is how to enhance the omnichannel experience by bridging the physical back to digital: For example, by pairing a demo cart with QR codes that link back to a curated Walmart.com landing page so customers can find inspiration and shop their list all in one spot,” Cooper wrote.
Walmart is currently offering 120 demos at stores each weekend, and plans to scale to 1,000 by the end of 2023.
Walmart Connect will now offer advertising placements on Walmart’s in-store radio network. Suppliers will have the option to purchase ads by region or store, enabling targeting of key markets.
“This is the first time brands will be able to speak directly to Walmart customers through this medium,” Cooper writes. “These ads also create a new upper-funnel touchpoint for brand marketers and out-of-home (OOH) buyers to create awareness, because in-store audio is about connecting with customers wherever they are in the store — they don’t have to pass the brand in the aisle.”
With the tests, we’ll be watching for how this advertising is measured, and whether Walmart Connect is tracking impact across different types of formats, and not just a single campaign.