Why an Out-of-the-Box Self-Serve Won’t Work for Retailers

Sarah Wheeler
Sarah Wheeler
Why an Out-of-the-Box Self-Serve Won’t Work for Retailers

As retail media sweeps the globe (generating $50B by 2023), it’s easy to see why retailers want third-party ad solutions with built-in self-serve functionality for advertisers. Self-serve UIs offer advertisers an easy way to launch and manage campaigns without an ad operations team, enabling retailers to quickly scale their retail media programs from ground zero to a revenue-driving initiative.

But out-of-the box self-serve interfaces aren’t built to scale, and they certainly aren’t built to grow to the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and other major retailers’ revenue.

The alternative to third-party offerings? Build your self-serve UI in-house. This article discusses why that’s important and how to build a scalable, future-proof retail media platform.

Why self-serve ad buying is important

Think about the top ad platforms out there: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc. These companies have scaled to billions in ad revenue thanks to self-serve ad portals, where advertisers can simply input a credit card, set up campaigns themselves, and pull their own reporting.

facebook dashboard

Facebook Campaign Set-up example

Granting advertisers direct access to launch campaigns on their platforms allows self-serve publishers to scale their ad programs quickly. The alternative is building out large sales and ad operations teams, which becomes expensive and burdensome. Self-serve simplifies this by offloading the invoicing, campaign management, and reporting to the advertiser.

Self-serve also drives new advertisers who may have avoided a manual buy, either because of the work involved or because they didn’t hit a minimum spend threshold.

The benefits of self-serve through a retail media network

As mentioned, retail media networks with turnkey self-serve UIs dominate the market. Criteo, a leading retail media network, hit $2.2B in revenue in 2021. And CitrusAd, a competitor, was acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2021.

There’s no debating these solutions have value, as they enable retailers to spin up retail media programs quickly, while also providing turnkey access to advertisers. They give retailers instant access to a self-serve ad portal that they can direct advertisers to. There’s no need for retailers to create massive ad operations and sales teams (or build the technology from scratch) when the networks will handle most of this themselves.

The other benefit is that retail advertisers, agencies, and DSPs will already have familiarity with these self-serve UIs, so there’s no learning curve to get going.

For those testing the viability of retail media, these solutions are a no-brainer.

Why out-of-the-box self-serve UIs don’t work long term

The problem is, as retailers scale their programs, the benefits of these networks start to become limitations.

In terms of advertiser demand, most retailers already have long-established direct relationships with manufacturers and sellers. Directing them to a basic self-serve UI and offloading that relationship to a third-party (who then takes a cut of the revenue) begins to feel like an unneeded step.

And while launching a program quickly is great, it comes at the cost of functionality and customization. Retailers are limited to just the features already built into these third-party self-serve UIs. If advertisers start to clamor for more features or targeting options within the ad portal, there’s little retailers can do to appease them.

Retailers may also discover that the user experience and branding of the UI isn’t exactly ideal. If agencies/advertisers dislike this generic UI, there’s nothing the retailer can do to create a better user experience. Ultimately, too, if they are using the same UI as hundreds of other retailers, it’s hard to gain any competitive advantage for their retail media program.

In other words, retailers sacrifice control and flexibility for quick revenue. At a certain point, as the program makes millions upon millions, retailers inevitably realize that they have outgrown the out-of-the-box solution.

Out-of-the-box solutions may be great short-term, but eventually, these retailers will want to see revenue numbers like Walmart ($2B) or Instacart ($1B). And to see numbers like Walmart and Instacart’s, you need to build tech like theirs.

Instacart revenue

It’s time to start building your own retail media network

The limitations above only become worse over time. It may sound daunting and time-consuming, but building your own retail media network is the only way to future-proof your revenue and set yourself up for long-term success.

Building it yourself also enables you to upgrade your self-serve portal and offer an experience that truly delights your advertisers. Such benefits include:

  1. Owning all of the advertiser relationships yourself. This helps with loyalty, as you can provide the service and transparency the other network can not.
  2. No revenue share with the third-party vendor. A 5% rev share adds up when you are earning tens of millions, or much more, through your platform.
  3. Full control over what features, ad units, and targeting options that advertisers see in the portal. If your partners are asking for a specific new feature within the UI, you can prioritize it, rather than wait for your vendor to build it (if they ever do).
  4. Full control over the user experience and branding of the UI. You can create an interface that is intuitive, seamless, and on-brand, potentially making your platform more interesting to advertisers.
  5. Future-proofing your revenue. You own the tech. You own the relationships. You control your revenue destiny.

You don’t have to start from scratch

The good news is, you don’t have to build your own retail media ad network completely from scratch. Kevel’s retail media APIs make it easy to build in-house ad platforms, complete with native ads like sponsored products; first-party data targeting like past purchase behavior; and a fully-customized self-serve UI you can direct advertisers to.

To learn how retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond, Everli, and Flink launched with Kevel in just weeks, contact us today.

Sarah Wheeler
Sarah Wheeler

Sarah is an experienced writer with a software background, allowing her to translate between ad tech experts and lay readers. As Kevel's Associate Product Marketing Manager, she helps broadcast new products and features.