Retail media networks will test how much shoppers are prepared to share.
B&Q is the latest retailer to unveil a retail media network. The DIY chain will offer brands, including many of its suppliers, the chance to advertise across B&Q websites and apps. This will let brands reach B&Q shoppers ‘at every stage of their shopping journey’ with insights powered by B&Q customer data.
B&Q is far from alone. Currys launched its retail media network earlier this month, and the big supermarkets and retailers such as Boots have been refining their own networks for some time. Retail media networks look set to the big issue of retail over the next few years.
In fact, market conditions through late 2022 and most of 2023 have arguably accelerated the trend. I reported in August 2022 (in Marketing Week) on how high inflation was encouraging more brands to use retail media networks, because of the way their spend there created a more measurable return and caused a more reliable increase in sales than other types of ads.
Mainstream awareness of the retail media network trend is now slowly catching up with the technology, and along with it the realisation that data gathered from retail loyalty schemes is the most valuable ingredient of the whole process. This is because the true value of retail media networks has always come not from retailers selling ads on their websites, but from selling the information they hold – about most of us – to other companies.
That data gives a very real insight into our personal lives, and can allow companies to form direct links between what we watch, see, read and listen to, and what we buy, when, and in what quantities.
A recent report in The Times highlighted just how important that is, showing how data from your supermarket loyalty card can influence which advertisements you see while streaming programmes from Channel 4. They might be entirely different to the ads your neighbour could see while watching the same programme.
The technology is very clever, but not without pitfalls. One danger is the risk of an ‘ickiness’ factor. Most people have at some point felt uncomfortable when something they have talked about during the day is suddenly advertised to them directly on one of their social media streams.
How did this happen? Is their phone spying on them? Is their internet search history being shared with a car dealer or a chocolate brand? The answers are deep in the terms and conditions of the various apps and loyalty schemes they interact with on a daily basis. They have agreed to the sharing of their data. And now those odd coincidences will happen when they watch TV too.
Of course, the more people who hold retailer loyalty cards, the more accurate the data is. This is why retailers have moved to ‘paywall’ many of their promotions behind their loyalty cards. If you want lower prices at Tesco, you need to get a Clubcard and, during a cost of living crisis, everybody wants lower prices.
Those who get that icky feeling when their TV viewing is interrupted by ads for a selection of products that closely resembles their recent shopping history have a clear choice: ditch the loyalty cards and pay more.
Of course, humans can always undermine technology as a recent overseen transaction shows. A customer in a Tesco convenience store was complaining about the high prices being demanded because he didn’t want a loyalty card, so the counter staff let him use the spare Clubcard they kept behind the till for just such unhappy customers.
The registered owner of that card was certainly receiving a very eclectic selection of targeted advertising.