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Media Measurement Retail Media Retail

How to find incremental growth in the age of the irrational shopper


By Jenni Baker, Senior Editor

May 28, 2024 | 7 min read

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With a front seat pass to Criteo’s UK Commerce Media Summit, we explore how retailers can build and scale their retail media propositions to connect to the polarized customer – and the work underpinning commerce media to get the models right.

People presenting on a stage at Criteo's Commerce Media Summit

Criteo’s UK Commerce Media Summit

Brands, agencies and retailers know that incremental growth is better for everybody – especially when there’s a $100bn+ revenue prize up for grabs with retail media.

With the end of the third-party cookie era on the horizon, shoppers have become more difficult to reach and harder to pinpoint. What’s more, their behaviors are becoming more unpredictable and unconventional; they’re cost-cutting with one hand and splurging with the other, they’re shopping in-store, online, and making purchase decisions in more channels than ever before.

“Customers are complex, polarized and confusing,” explains Jack Stratten, head of trends at Insider Trends, giving the opening keynote at Criteo’s UK Commerce Media Summit. “They have an appetite for speed but there’s a [disconnect] between what shoppers say and do, making it hard to find patterns. You have to consider an irrational, complicated customer and enter with an open mind so that whatever you do plays to that emotional rationality and irrationality.”

Connecting with the customer

This is where retailers’ first-party data comes in. “That’s where the power is,” says Matt Walburn, marketing, online and customer director at AS Watson UK (Superdrug & Savers). And the good news is that retailers are up for sharing it with brands – as long as the value exchange is there.

But retailers still have a job to do at helping brands better understand how to reach incremental audiences [which aren’t consistent across every retailer] to justify spending the media budget.

“Retailer data is really rich and there’s a lot we can do once we get access to it,” says Pedro Cavalcanti, digital transformation director for Northern Europe at Colgate-Palmolive. “That will allow us to touch on incrementality, to understand when you are bringing back a lapsed user or adding shoppers to the aisle which becomes a win win situation for the retailer and the brands.”

The challenge is “how you circumvent the commercial wrangle to bring the media aspect together,” says Cavalcanti, and that’s something “the industry hasn’t cracked yet”. Right now, it’s not the way most teams are set up; they’re still thinking in-store and trading. And this creates a “massive silo and big challenge from an integrated media planning perspective as well as for the shopper who is not going to be seeing a single line message.”

Meeting them without disruption

That’s where the ability for brands to be able to move budgets based on real-time analytics and optimize as quickly as possible comes into play. “Understanding the why behind the behaviors is really important,” says Steve Mader, global head of commerce at PHD Global.

“The insight at a line level detail is going to be key,” says Walburn. “If you can’t supply that feedback in real time as to what someone’s doing, it will just be the advertising revenue that drives the behavior between the two, and ultimately that might mean it’s not suiting the customer and your sales overall are not growing. If you don’t have that data, it’s a dangerous world to get into.”

With that knowledge comes power to ensure that brands are meeting them without disruption. “Retail media is a means to an end; [it’s got to be] additional, incremental and helpful to the shopper journey rather than being disruptive in a negative way,” says Cavalcanti.

It’s why many retailers have been steady in their approach to getting those models right, versus rushing to revenues. “First-party data means that we have the insights to efficiently get to that audience - but we’ve got to keep integrity and control of the touchpoints,” says Walburn.

Measurement foundations

By pushing their data out there, retailers are seeing strong ROI, which is measurable and can be replicated. But, as Fiona Davis, global vice-president of growth at CvE, says, “brands and publishers need to have more conversations to get closer to that first-party data” which is the “backbone for addressability for the rest of the market.”

There are still some fundamentals in the retail media ecosystem that must be agreed upon first: how will you measure? What’s the ROAS? How will you build an audience? What foundations do you have in place to be able to scale profitably? “Measurement standards and foundations need to catch up with other media,” says Yara Daher, retail media advisor at IAB Europe.

To enable connected activations for the customer, there’s got to be a greater push for industry standardization, to make retail media buying easier for all brands, enabling full funnel measurement and comparisons across retailers. That means common currencies and language around measurement and ways of working, with consistency in how outcomes are measured.

“Measurement standards are going in the right direction, but when everyone does certain things a little differently [with different definitions of metrics on how they measure attribution windows and ROAS] it’s like herding cats,” says Elton Ollerhead, director at ASOS Media Group, “The intention for alignment is there and that’s important because brands need and want it to elevate their campaigns across the different retail media offerings. And when advertisers and brands are happy, that’s when we win.”

Re-wiring to scale

And while it’s easy to get caught up in chasing metrics, marketers mustn’t forget the real goal: finding creative ways to connect with customers in a way that is additive to the customer journey. That requires an element of risk taking to learn fast, fail fast and scale when successful.

“It’s about constantly talking and listening [to the customer] and testing,” says Dan Rubel, brand and marketing director, Currys. “Braveness shouldn’t be just an instinct. We afford ourselves [the ability] to be brave because we’re obsessed with testing things. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and celebrate the failures, rejoice in the fact that you’re pushing the boundaries, make sure you’re spreading your bets, and if you’re going to spend time testing something, pre-identify what success looks like to move on to the next step.”

As retailers build and scale their retail media propositions, capabilities and standards to reach incremental audiences, as long as the customer is kept front of mind, revenues will follow.

“We all have the same objective, so democratizing access to data is key to success,” says Cavalcanti. “The more capabilities that are available and the more we push the industry to have better, shopper centric solutions, [means that] everybody wins. The retailer sells more, the brand sells more, and we are hopefully giving a better experience to the shopper.”

To explore how businesses can unlock the value of their retail media investments and measure success beyond ROAS, check out ‘The ROAS Trap’ report from Criteo.

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