Why retail media needs to be more than eCommerce

The retail media landscape has evolved rapidly. With its highly targeted and measurable campaigns, eCommerce is a great way to reach consumers, but grocery retailers who look solely to digital media could face lost opportunity – and risk alienating in-store shoppers, says Mark Burton

Recent times have seen eCommerce claim the lion’s share of retail media focus – a trend that was already underway before COVID-19 swept the globe, but which undoubtedly has been accelerated by the pandemic-led pivot to more online shopping.

It’s a shift underlined by the number of retailers that have launched platforms focused on eCommerce shopper activation, from the Carrefour Links platform – designed to better meet customer needs via more personalised experiences – to Walmart Connect, created to provide a holistic view of customer behaviour that informs retail media strategy.

In tandem with this trend, headlines have been creating a buzz around digital retail media. When Publicis Groupe’s acquisition of CitrusAd hit the news in July, its promise of a new generation of “identity-led retail media” provoked much industry excitement. And it’s easy to understand why: eCommerce sales for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are predicted to double by 2023 from 2019 levels, representing one of the biggest channels for CPG media spends in the coming years.

For retailers launching media, eCommerce marks a huge opportunity. It’s low cost, high income, easily measurable, and can be highly targeted. Following the lead of Facebook, Google and Amazon, eCommerce media platforms are increasingly self-serve, making it easier than ever for advertisers to invest. Then there’s the fact that many retail media platform vendors lack capability beyond online. For them, digital-only is the way forward.

Made to order

But the reality for grocery retailers is more nuanced. Here, eCommerce still suffers gaps in sales and revenue opportunity – in the UK,  even leading grocers in the wake of a huge eCommerce boom are seeing a maximum of 20% sales coming through their eCommerce sites.  As recently as 2019/20, a third of UK shoppers said they never bought food products online. Not only do those retailers who focus solely on eCommerce  risk having highly developed solutions in a relatively small part of their operation, they also risk overlooking entire swathes of their customer base.

For grocery consumers, the majority of interactions they have with retailers take place in and around the store. The challenge for grocery retailers is striking a balance between online and in-store experience – and getting the most from opportunities in their physical estate.

There’s an additional challenge in creating a cohesive experience for consumers. Almost all shoppers who buy groceries online also shop in-store with the same retailer, and building homogeneity between the two can reinforce brand identity and loyalty. Without it, the imbalance between in-store and online messaging has an opportunity cost – both in terms of sales and consumer retention.

As a customer, it can be a jarring experience to see a lot of ads and sponsorship on a retailer’s eCommerce site, and no similar activation in the store. For retailers and brands this is also a huge missed opportunity to match up the online and instore experience to deliver a more seamless experience and better campaign performance.

It is, unsurprisingly, easier to set up a purely online media platform than it is to execute physical retail media, be that printed point of sale, digital screens or any other non-eCommerce touchpoint a retailer can access. The logistics are more complex, and it’s more complicated to target and measure physical inventory than digital. Are these challenges insurmountable? No. Several leading grocers have been offering omnichannel retail media for a number of years.

With the right expertise and – much like setting up an eCommerce platform – the right partner to provide tech, tools and know-how – a connected and cross-channel media business is well within the reach of most grocery retailers. The tech is also catching up quickly – and it won’t be long before advertisers can book physical campaigns via self-serve as well as the digital campaigns of today.


The benefits of an omnichannel retail media business are manifold. For most grocery retailers, the retail media opportunity outside eCommerce will comfortably outstrip the value of eCommerce media, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Having a connected media set across physical and digital channels creates a larger pool of high value inventory for brands to buy into, and being able to target and measure across each of those channels adds incremental value to the whole offering.

For customers, the experience is better-connected if creative consistency and messaging are aligned regardless of where they’re shopping, and we know from multiple studies that a connected campaign across channels drives greater customer response and performance.

Of course, the opposite can be true if omnichannel retail media is not set up in the right way. The worst outcome for retailers, brands and customers is to have disconnected, parallel activations across channels. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to align targeting, activation and measurement across every channel in the retail media space.

Getting this alignment right is  made possible via the dunnhumby ethos of “customer-first”. Our goal is to make the shopping experience the best it can be, with media that is useful and informative, but not intrusive. It’s an approach that’s good for the customer, good for the retailer, and good for the brand – win-win-win.

By giving equal focus to the digital and physical opportunities in retail media, brands can ensure consistent messaging – and consistent sales. Connected solutions are the answer to delivering highly targeted and measurable advertising

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