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How Asos plans to generate more revenue from its retail media


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

March 14, 2023 | 7 min read

Expect more on-site ads, sponsored search and an ambitious connected TV plan underpinned by a new Criteo partnership.


Asos first launched its retail media business in 2021 / Asos

In the face of what its CEO has called “challenging trading conditions,” e-commerce giant Asos is going where many other brands have gone in the past 12 months to eke out a new source of revenue: retail media.

Asos first launched its retail media business in 2021, slightly before top brands were fully convinced this was the direction of travel. Currently, it offers brands support on social media campaigns, targeted emails and app push notifications across its website and app. But it is trying to mature that product offer in the face of increased competition from brands such as Westfield and Boots, which have all launched their own networks in recent months. To do that, it has brought in a top adtech partner in Criteo. Currently AMG works directly with Asos’ top 150 brand partners, it now looks to onboard 200 more. In the longterm, it wants to be able to facilitate the needs of all 900 partners across all markets.

Elton Ollerhead is the director of Asos Media Group (AMG) and says that the Criteo partnership will initially underpin the launch of three new creative solutions for brands. The first of these is the creation of a sponsored ads product in the Asos search results and product listings – formats that Amazon users will be familiar with. Brands have been requesting this for as long as he’s been in the role, he says, and there will be significant scale with the retailer boasting 26 million ”active” customers in 200 markets around the world, with the ”vast majority” of these in the four launch markets.

These users browse some 70,000 products from nearly 900 brands, not including its own labels. Brands looking to get a leg up on rivals will have the incentive to own coveted search terms.

As Ollerhead explains: ”The sponsored ads are a really effective addition. It’s a low-funnel tactic when people are intently searching for a specific item, so that’ll help brands really showcase their product at a time when people are ready to buy.”

Its second solution for brands is the extension of its on-site display ads, which will be shown on more pages in the coming months. Despite Asos pushing the ad load on its sites, Ollerhead dismisses concerns that it will impact the shopping experience, saying there will be ”creative consistency” with the ads as they are all shot in-house by AMG.

Finally, fueled by its first-party user data, AMG will be able to run client ads off-site and, in time, on connected TV. There will be an element of retargeting abandoned baskets and searched items from customers, as well as the targeting of lookalike audiences.

“The appeal for brands is really to reach those customers, as well as customers who might be elsewhere off-site, on the internet or on other publisher sites, bringing them back to a source to complete the sale and also to look at seeking out lookalike audiences.”

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AMG has come a long way since 2021 when it was mostly focused on shooting partner brands in the Asos style, “putting a fashion lens” on top brands – a service that sporting apparel brands in particular value.

Ollerhead says the next step with Criteo is to “enhance the distribution of the creative… and showcase the brands a lot better”.

“Brands are very keen on working with companies that own a first-party database of customers who are loyal and repeat purchasing. Using that data to target customers is valuable to our brands. They have told us that they are very interested in doing more of this. I think brands have really woken up to the power of retail media.“

As it stands, AMG can already target shoppers based on their browser habits and the Criteo deal will enhance targeting and measurement, he says. But what stands out most is not the retail media deal itself, which is replicable by rivals to some extent. Instead, Ollerhead talks up what the trusted Asos brand and its creative direction bring to clients, with strong product ads and an easy commerce path. “It’s not just a shop where you come and buy something – many come to get influenced on what to wear.”

The question for advertisers is whether they believe AMG’s golden goose database will provide them with the access to the high-intent fashionistas they need, or whether the offering could get lost in what’s proving to be a first-party data rush to fill the void of the third-party cookie.

Asos is, of course, not alone in seeing the benefits of retail media. UK grocery firm Ocado last week teamed up with The Trade Desk (TTD), which will be battling rival Criteo for the rights to unlock first-party data across the web too.

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