There was no doubt — or surprise — that artificial intelligence (AI) would be the star at NRF’s annual Big Show, where technology giants and startup innovators alike jostled to convince retailers why their solutions were leveraging the buzz phrase of the past 12 months.
Yet the Big Show, which was held Jan. 13-16 in New York, also devoted a significant slate of its roster to retailer media networks, with retailers such as Walmart, 7-Eleven, Walgreens and Kroger explaining how they plan to monetize their assets, especially their stores.
In this special report, we round up some of the key sessions.
The Golden Age of Retail Media Networks
Ryan Mayward, SVP retail media sales, Walmart Connect, stressed that the last 18 months at the retail giant had seen the company focus on display ads moving onto the Walmart platform, but the next six months would see acceleration of the programmatic business.
“Our approach has allowed us to build in-store ads and new touchpoints, on the web, social, etc. It starts with what is most convenient for the shopper, which is the app, which has become a marketplace, with third-party sellers,” he said. “It’s highly profitable and we're plowing that back into the retail business. With media partnerships [and] working with broadcasters/social media, we see a lot of headroom to partner for years to come.”
On attribution, he said that suppliers want to know iterations between online and in-store and said that Walmart can build a “high fidelity model” to show how all touchpoints can show incremental sales uplifts.
“But we want a lighter touch system, which we’ll be introducing. This will be a big year for investment in accurate measurement,” he stressed. “We are seeing money flowing into in-store advertising. Video and audio via in-store radio, also deli and bakery screens. Ads on self-checkouts. Touchpoints throughout the store, trying to shape marketers’ ad experience for the customer, how each touchpoint drives performance.”
Jonathan Lustig, head of revenue for Walgreens, added that with around 9,000 stores, the footprint of its physical assets has become incredibly valuable.
“We took a unique route with offsite via loyalty programs with 100 million users, built on the web and then leveraged through in-store assets to leverage both physical and digital,” he said. “Data has allowed us to build depth and breadth, additive to the consumer experience. There is no one way to interact with the customer.”
Lustig said that Walgreens views its retailer media network as another channel to engage and that the retailer had tested myriad of in-store models, looking at ways to include media networks as a core part of the store.
Making the Shift to Consumer Obsession
With BJ’s Wholesale Club celebrating its 40th anniversary, the company is currently opening around 10 stores annually, and moving into the Midwest. While chairman and CEO Bob Eddy said that the past few years had been challenging, especially for consumers, for 2024 his key point was that “value always wins.”
“The personalization of offers has become very important, also as a way of interacting with club members,” he said, in a session where he was joined by Anton Vincent, president, Mars Wrigley, North America & Global Ice Cream.
BJ’s spends considerable time look at its consumer data, Eddy said, and BJ’s and Mars have had a “tremendous partnership” in working out how to engage consumers in the way that they want to be engaged. That has included, for example, a dedicated Halloween microsite.
“It isn’t just handing anyone a coupon any longer,” Eddy said. “It really is understanding how to interact one-on-one with members. That’s been an incredibly powerful movement over the past few years.”
The goal, Vincent added, is to avoid a disjointed experience and become better at identifying complementary partners and working together within an omnichannel framework.
BJ’s and Mars have collaborated on retail media, “to understand what particular members want and interact with them on a one-to-one basis,” Eddy said.