Retail Media: The Ultimate Guide

What retail media means, why it’s growing, different types of retail media explained, and top retail media examples.
Retail Media Ultimate Guide Kevel
Retail media is quickly becoming one of the top ad spend segments, with GroupM projecting worldwide retail media ad spend to hit over $136B in 2024. Top retailers and marketplaces alike are rushing to launch their own retail media network to capitalize on this opportunity.

But as more and more retailers and non-retail companies hope to take some of this ad spend for themselves, advertisers are pushing back against the myriad of emerging buying hubs. In fact, the ANA reports that 56% of advertisers today want to work with 5-10 retailers, meaning not all retail media networks will win.

The question is no longer simply “What is retail media?” but rather, “What makes a stand-out retail media network?”

In this article, we’ll dive into what retail media means today, why it’s growing so rapidly, top retail media examples, and next steps for those looking to not just join, but excel among the retail media crowd.
Source: Acadia. Retail media launches

What does retail media mean?

The definition of retail media according to the ANA is: “A network of digital channels owned by a retailer that allows marketers to purchase advertising space directed by the retailer’s first-party data to targeted shoppers and prospects.” This includes onsite, offsite, and in-store advertising using retailer first-party data.

To keep it brief, we’ll define retail media as essentially “when a retailer offers advertising capabilities and services.”

What’s a retail media network?

A retail media network means “an asset owned and operated by a retailer which publishes advertisements, or a third-party publisher that contains ads which leverage a retailer’s first-party shopper data” according to eMarketer. Essentially, a retail media network is a retailer’s onsite, offsite, or in-store assets that publish ads targeted by first-party data, like their website or app or in-store screens.

Retail media and retail media networks seem interchangeable, but there’s a subtle difference. In short- retail media is made up of retail media networks owned by retail publishers. Target, for example, may have made an investment in retail media (conceptual) by launching their own retail media network (actual).

If that’s the retail media definition, what’s commerce media?

Commerce media is defined by Criteo as “advertising that connects shoppers with products and services throughout the buying journey across both physical and digital touchpoints, linking advertising investment directly to transactions.”

Both retail and commerce media are similar in that they connect advertisers to customers through data-rich ad interactions at the point of purchase. Commerce media aims to expand the definition of “retail media” by including publishers who may not specifically be a “retailer,” but are still advertising as customers are shopping. 

For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the terms interchangeably. When we think about retail media, we consider retail and retail-adjacent companies (think Marriott, Instacart, Klarna) all as part of the same category. Marketplaces, ecommerce sites, hotels, or delivery apps may not have the same in-store inventory, but they still are monetizing shopper experiences with first-party data, so we think of them as part of the same category. 
Source: McKinsey. Retail Media Networks

How big is retail media?

Retail media is growing rapidly, estimated to hit $178B in the next four years. Much of that growth is due to Amazon, the largest retail media company, with nearly $15B in ad revenue in Q4 of 2023 alone.

Regardless of the tech giant Amazon’s earnings, retail media is rapidly growing in the world of advertising. Retail media will soon surpass TV ad spend and collectively make up 15% of total ad spend. It is the third-fastest growing advertising segment and the largest of those three fast-growing segments.

The history of retail media

Retail media was established by Amazon and Ebay at the beginning of last decade. They saw an opportunity to leverage their audience for advertising in a unique place: where people shop online.

Walmart and Wayfair, along with other early adopters, quickly followed suit. These giant retail companies saw Amazon’s success and launched their own retail media networks like Walmart Connect. But when launching, they faced a build or buy dilemma: they could either pour significant resources into developing their own advertising capabilities or grow through acquisitions.

In this phase of retail media, only retailers with deep pockets and large engineering departments could enter the space and compete. This is what inspires acquisitions like Vizio: Walmart wants to keep up with the likes of Amazon’s TV advertising, so they buy Vizio to speed up their time to market.

With COVID, retail media changed dramatically. Everybody began shopping online, and the opportunity exploded. The share of ecommerce sales increased nearly 10% from 2019 to 2024.

More and more retailers knew they needed to launch quickly, leading to companies like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Target launching their own retail media networks with partners like Criteo and PromoteIQ. Retailers started buying rather than building from scratch or acquiring companies, adapting easy-to-launch adtech originally built for things like retargeting for all their advertising purposes.

Today, the market is saturated with these kinds of offerings as retail media continues to grow.
Source: Xenoss. The market becomes saturated with non-differentiated offerings

Why is retail media growing rapidly?

In two words: advertiser demand. Advertisers are motivated by performance aspects of retail media, citing conversion as their primary goal followed by consideration as a distant second. Demand is stable and growing, with the ANA reporting 56% of Advertisers using 5 or more retail-media networks and 58% estimate they’ll use more next year. 

Today, only 10% of overall media budgets go towards Retail Media Networks, but with the increase in demand and other trends in the industry like the deprecation of the third-party cookie, that has the potential to increase incrementally.
Source: CNBC. Amazon YoY growth

What types of retail media exist?

There are three main types of retail media: onsite, offsite, and in-store. 

Onsite retail media is ads run on a retailer’s own website or app. This would look like Pringles running a sponsored listing on Walmart’s website.

Offsite retail media is “advertising that is placed in third-party channels, such as social media networks, other websites or connected TV platforms, based on a retailer’s customer data and insights,” according to Retail Touchpoints. This would look like Pringles appearing in a sponsored Target post on Instagram.

In-store ads are ads on digital screens within a brick-and-mortar store. This would look like a Pringles ad on a cashier screen or a TV screen within Target.
Source: Retail Touchpoints. In-store retail media example

Top retail media examples

The leading retail media companies today are Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, eBay, and Etsy, with Kroger, Albertsons, and Target being key figures as well. 

What makes these brands stand out from the rest is their:

  • Traffic: Whether instore or online, these brands have large amounts of shoppers every second of the day, making them appealing to advertisers. And, the traffic is especially valuable because the ad viewers all have purchase intent at the time they view the ad.
  • Audiences: Not only do these retailers have many eyeballs on the ads– retailers are able to segment these customers by their interests and propensity to purchase items based on their troves of first-party data. They can collect data through things like loyalty programs, emails, and credit card history.
  • Unique placements: These brands keep innovating, offering advertisers new and exciting formats they pay premiums for. Amazon recently launched their video shelf unit, with other retailers clamoring to launch something similar on their own sites.

Here are a few top retail media ad examples:

  • Sponsored listings: Listings that appear natively among other product listings
  • Native banners: Alongside sponsored listings, advertisers like to run companion banner ads to the side.
  • Digital in store: Within store screens, advertisers can run relevant and engaging ads.
  • Homepage carousels: At the top of the homepage, ads can rotate through a carousel as the user scrolls.
  • Video sponsored shelf: At the top of category pages, advertisers can run videos alongside their sponsored listings.
Amazon shoppable video unit

Options for retail media solutions

There are multiple ways you could launch a retail media program, effectively boiling down to “build vs buy.” There are three main choices: buying an out-of-the-box solution, building from scratch, or building with the Retail Media Cloud ™.

1. Out-of-the-box retail media:

These enable you to integrate sponsored products relatively easily. Generally, they provide advertisers for you and bring their own advertiser self-serve portal. Integration can either be through JavaScript-tags or APIs. CitrusAd, Criteo, TopSort, Moloco, and PromoteIQ are some of the major names here.

When to consider this:

  • You want quick access to advertisers. Networks bring demand and connect you with advertisers, without you needing to pitch the program directly to your vendors.
  • You need a fast launch time. You can usually implement these in days.
  • You want easy relevancy scoring. These companies bring their own data models to your advertising, maintaining control over which ads appear where. If you don’t have much relevancy or targeting sophistication, this is a good choice for you.

When to think twice:

  • You want to harness your first-party data. Walmart and Amazon are making billions from their ads by using first-party data to target. This is not something that’s possible with an out-of-the-box solution.
  • You want full customization. These are more of a plug-and-play solution; you’re limited to just their offered features, nothing more.
  • You want transparency and control. Integration is simple and drives revenue, but you often lose control over who appears and have limited direct relationships with buyers.
  • You don’t like revenue sharing. These solutions operate under an opaque rev share model.
  • You want to do in-store advertising. These companies are focused on online advertising only.

2. Build your own solution:

Amazon, Walmart, and Instacart built their own retail media solutions from scratch without using a third-party ad network. Building requires vast resources and time, but has its benefits.

When to consider this:

  • Fast page load times and no ad blocking. Many retail media networks require JavaScript ad tags, which slow down page load times and get ad blocked.
  • You want something you own 100%.
  • You want control over what features are prioritized. Since you are building it, you get to decide what features to design.
  • You don’t want to pay vendor fees.
  • You want transferable first-party data targeting. With an ad server built in-house, you can use data collected online for your in-store targeting, and vice-versa.

When to think twice:

  • You can’t wait years. Every day your platform isn’t live means lost revenue, and building from scratch can take years.
  • You don’t have engineering resources. Amazon, Facebook, and others all have hundreds of ad engineers to build and optimize their ad products.

3. Build faster with The Retail Media Cloud™:

An alternative to building from scratch is launching with The Retail Media Cloud™,  the ultimate SaaS platform that provides all the tools to build differentiated, world-class Retail Media Networks. It's built with the power of the Kevel Ad Server APIs and Kevel Audience for launching limitless ad formats and unique targeting segments, all with closed-loop attribution.

When to consider this:

  • You want all the benefits of an in-house build. Unlike third-party retail media networks, the Retail Media Cloud™ comes with all the benefits of building from scratch: no ad blocking, first-party data activation, DOOH targeting, and more.
  • You want to quickly launch a custom retail media ad platform. Using a Retail Media Cloud™ built off of an API-first platform lets you build what you want, on your terms, in just weeks. You get the flexibility of an in-house build, but in a fraction of the time and cost.
  • You want pricing transparency. These often employ SaaS pricing, based around # of ad requests, and don’t take a percent of media.

When to think twice:

  • You don’t have advertisers. The Retail Media Cloud™ provides the tech, not the demand, so you’ll need existing advertiser relationships.
  • You want control over what features are prioritized. Since you are building it, you get to decide what features to design.
Chairish, for instance, uses Kevel's Retail Media Cloud™ to quickly launch their retail media platform and integrate sponsored listings:

How to begin

Your competitors are growing rapidly with retail media platforms. If you’re looking to launch one quickly — but would prefer the customization of an in-house build — you can use Kevel to design one in just weeks.

Kevel is the leader in ad infrastructure APIs and has helped eCommerce brands like Klarna, Edmunds, and Leroy Merlin build flexible retail media ad platforms in a fraction of the time and cost as doing it from scratch using the Retail Media Cloud™.

Let us know how we can help you start today!

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