Some of the world’s largest retailers have their sights set on garnering a larger share of the ad market. And why not. Amazon is expected to generate $11 billion in advertising revenue this year, growing to $15 billion in 2020 (source: eMarketer).
So it comes as no surprise to learn that other retailers have taken steps to shore up their ad platforms. In April, Walmart acquired Silicon Valley-based Polymorph Labs and their content sensitive digital ad serving and analytical capabilities to help strengthen its Walmart Media Group and Target is rumored to be interested in acquiring WPP’s Triad Retail Media unit to support its Roundel media division. All three retailers are actively courting advertisers and their agency partners to pitch the media and product sales benefits of their data driven advertising offerings.
On one hand, one might question why is this even newsworthy? Traditional retailers have long been in the ad business, selling advertising to the brands that they carry on in-store media, in weekly ad circulars, in price-item television and radio spots and in OOH. Thus the expanded focus on sophisticated, data-driven digital advertising solutions should come as no surprise.
That said, the potential to integrate target audience information with web browsing data, shopper data and location data to serve up relevant ads in an environment where consumers can immediately click-to-buy and receive their merchandise in a day or two has the potential to revolutionize the retail ad industry.
As retailers refine their offering and simplify platform use, they will quickly cannibalize traditional search and digital display advertising activity. Factor in the ability to tap retailers omnichannel databases, with the goal of refining ad targeting to drive digital media efficiency and the appeal of retailer digital ad platforms increases exponentially.
Consider Walmart Media Group’s pitch to advertisers; with “90% of Americans shopping at Walmart every year” and “160 million visitors” in-store and online every week, Walmart Media Group helps brands to “reach more customers at scale and measure advertising effectiveness across the entire shopping journey.”
On the surface this evolution of retail advertising certainly appears to be a win-win for the industry. Retailers benefit from a new, high margin revenue stream that is largely technology driven, relying on automated platforms. For the agency community, specialist agencies are already coming to the fore that focus exclusively on assisting brands in assessing and realizing opportunities associated with these retailer digital ad platforms. And, from a brand perspective, serving up targeted ads in a brand safe, fraud free environment with the potential to immediately convert consumer interest to sales is a compelling value proposition.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for manufacturers as more retailers join the fray, will be to balance the ongoing need to strengthen their brands and for some, to build their own direct-to-consumer offerings, while funding their participation in retailer digital ad platforms. Make no mistake, while a brand may be able to build a solid business case for investing with their retail partners, retailer leverage over brands to influence whether or not they buy-in and at what level will be real as the balance of power pendulum continues to swing in favor of omnichannel retailers.