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Data from a recent IAB research recently indicates that around 99% of APAC marketers intend to increase their retail media spend this year and retailers have finally realised they are sitting on an untapped goldmine. 

As customers adopt online shopping as the norm, marketers recognise the need to provide a personalised shopping experience and retailers are increasingly monetising access to ad spending across their websites and in-store activity.

Chemist Warehouse, an Australian pharmacy chain, recently aimed to become one of the largest advertising businesses in the country through sponsored ads on their site and in-store out-of-home screens. For a company whose traditional modus operandi was cost-effective access to pharmaceutical goods, advertising across their network now accounts for 20% of their sales. 

However, accessing retail media networks (RMNs) fluidly and at scale, remains a sticking point for marketers. Unlike advertising across the open internet – which allows a brand to access ad space across news websites, blogs, broadcast video-on-demand and music streaming apps with ease – RMNs often close their ecosystem. This is known as a ‘walled garden’. 

And while the market may become saturated with an infinite number of RMNs, their timing and power have never been more evident. Google’s impending (be it at a snail’s pace) third-party cookie deprecation is providing an added boost for retail media networks – especially as most of their USPs lie not just in their ad space, but also their valuable customer data is available for advertising use. 

Singapore-owned Carousell Group, who have premium online e-commerce space including Carousell, OneShift and Revo Financial, seized the opportunity and launched its own Shopping Ads back in 2022; collaborating with brands to acquire new customers and increase sales. Now with 58 million registered users across Greater Southeast Asia, their value to brands is insurmountable. 

For any marketer navigating this minefield, they need a ‘Swiss army knife’ of solutions.

While there’s value in utilising an RMN’s rich data – nothing is stopping a brand from creating its own goldmine. Even before engaging with an RMN, brands should be collecting and collating their own customer data. This can be as simple as starting a loyalty program, creating a newsletter or email/SMS promotions, or tracking a user’s purchase journey through a site pixel. These strategies arm a brand with information known only to them about their core customer base – allowing the brand to build audience profiles and understand who their core customer is – without solely relying on an RMN to tell them. 

Better yet, the better breeds of RMN will combine their richly sourced and proprietary customer data with a marketer’s brand in a process known as “data clean-rooming”. These data cleanrooms are safe spaces where a RMN and a brand can share anonymized and aggregated shopper data with the brand within a secure environment. Here, both parties can collaborate and supercharge their data and build better customer insights. For example, by understanding patterns and preferences in this combined data will help brands understand their ‘repeat-shoppers’, ‘vertical-based shoppers’, and ‘lapsed shoppers’ between both data sets. 

Combining data in a cleanroom also helps brands understand the missing links in the customer journey. By securely sharing anonymised transaction data, the marketer can attribute specific marketing touchpoints (such as a purchase of their product through a RMN) to build out more accurate return on ad spend, customer loyalty and lifetime value. Combining data with a RMN removes a layer of fogginess that RMN’s walled gardens can, on their own, provide.

Given the walled garden state of RMNs, marketers should also look directly outside the RMN for retail solutions. Marketers should engage with providers that can provide a multi-retail solution that doesn’t require dozens of direct deals with retailers. Off-site media platforms like Criteo’s Retail Media solution have allowed brands – such as online shopping site Welcia.com in Japan – to gain access to valuable audience segments for effective targeting, as well as transparent reporting and closed-loop measurement through their own partnerships with leading retailers. 

In Australia, Circana’s recent partnership with omnichannel media-buying platform The Trade Desk allows brands to measure the incremental impact of their cross-funnel and cross-channel campaigns across multiple retailers at once. 

In a highly fragmented and ever-growing retail market, marketers should not lose sight of traditional media buying to drive brand equity. Focusing on closed-loop solutions and sales helps to understand the return on ad spend, customer journeys, and lifetime value. But as reporting remains unhomogenized across RMNs, and the ability to advertise on an RMN remains tedious, the art of building brand equity through the open internet and traditional media buying channels – as brands have always done – should not be lost.

As marketers learn to strike a healthy balance between traditional brand building and sales-driven activity backed by retail media – retail media networks are opening fascinating and accountable ways to prove the value of a brand’s media investment. It is still, however, developed in a walled garden environment. 

Brands should be selective of which RMN aligns best with their brand, and explore less-tedious multi-retail solutions, all while not losing focus of the traditional media spends that got brands to where they are.

This thought leadership is written by Sebastian Diaz, Head of Media Innovation at Bench Media

MARKETECH APAC is leading the conversation on the future of e-commerce marketing strategies this 2024 and beyond with the E-Commerce Marketing in Malaysia 2024 conference on July 25, 2024 at Sheraton Petaling Jaya and the E-Commerce Marketing in the Philippines 2024 conference on August 14, 2024 at Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria. Join us and become an integral part of a dynamic community committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation and fostering unparalleled growth in the e-commerce domain.

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