Retail media works best when it is part of a holistic media mix that includes trusted brand and customer relationships, robust first party data and a positive customer experience, says Cartology’s Robbie Hills.

Retail media is a phenomenon garnering serious momentum. Retail media in five years has achieved what social and search took 11–14 years to deliver: US$30 billion in ad revenue globally (eMarketer 2023).

For brands that are looking not just to influence at the point of purchase but to drive customer engagement throughout the entire connected customer journey, which is becoming increasingly complex, true retail media providers afford this opportunity, future-proofed for a post-cookie world.

So what does it take to be a true retail media provider and what opportunity does this provide for brands?

The value equation is simple – privileged and trusted relationships with brands and customers, quality first-party data and contextually relevant moments working together to provide the greatest customer experience.

Retail media needs a customer franchise at its heart

Privileged and trusted relationships with both brands and customers sit at the heart of a customer franchise and in turn, retail media. Customer behaviour is a core driver of retail media and retailers have unique and established relationships with customers and brands. Retail media connects brands to customers for information, inspiration and discovery to help fuel their decision making. With 78% of customers saying they like to discover new products when they grocery shop (Cartology Customer Playbook, September 2021) and 92% of BIG W customers browsing two or more categories per visit (Cartology BIG W Customer Portrait), brands can show up for customers in those key moments where they need them.

The ability to deeply connect brands to audiences, shoppers, through to real customers, is a core unlock in retail media like we’ve not seen before.  

First-party data future-proofs retail media

Cookies are out and retail media is in. A cookieless world is almost upon us and retail media is seen as the opportunity for a post-cookie world ensuring effective, first party customer targeting and reporting. IAB’s 2023 retail media “State of the Nation” report identifies that nearly half of respondents see the top opportunity of partnering with retailers for retail media advertisers is access to their first party data, comparative to the top European opportunity identified as being closed loop attribution.

Retail media is also seen as a solution to major disruption for brands, with six in ten seeing retail media as a key part of their advertising strategy following the deprecation of third-party cookies.

Access to robust first-party data through retail media fuels an advanced understanding of customers, more precise targeting and unparalleled closed loop reporting.

Rounding it out with context on the connected customer journey

Most online shoppers do understand that their data is used for targeting advertising and marketing, the IAB report found. Thus, it's important to effectively use this data to provide a positive value exchange for customers in the context of the customer journey.

The context that retail media offers is unassailable for inspiration and education along the shopping journey. Brands can connect more meaningfully with customers to drive impactful brand conversations. Almost six in ten (58%) of online shoppers often read content produced by retailers, with retailer websites and emails remaining the most frequently read content as found in the IAB report.

The role of retail media can also vary as customer journeys increase in complexity. We’ve been saying it for a while now but that journey is no longer online or offline. It’s also no longer a linear journey from discovery through to conversion. With customers shopping where and how they choose, online and offline, comes a shift in the role that media can play at any one time.

For brands, a unique understanding of and access to customers along the connected customer journey means showing up in the right place, for the right customers to deliver real campaign impact.

I encourage marketers to challenge their thinking on what really constitutes retail media. Without trusted brand and customer relationships, without robust first-party data and without contextual relevance and a positive customer experience, there is no retail media network opportunity. For retail media to work best, it needs all these elements working in concert with brands but importantly, planned as part of a holistic media mix. That will create not only best practice but the best results for brands and our customers.