How Home Depot and Kroger use RMN to improve shoppers’ ad experience

Retail media networks (RMNs) are a rapidly growing channel for advertisers. RMN revenue in 2022 was estimated at $37.5 billion by the IAB in their Internet Advertising Revenue Report.

The key to RMN’s success is how interactions with brands can enhance the shopper experience. Digital media experts at Kroger and The Home Depot have spent years developing media networks keeping this key point in mind. If a branded ad interrupts the customer’s journey, it doesn’t help the brand, the retailer or, most importantly, the customer.

Helping when customers research products

Where can brands get involved in the customer journey? At The Home Depot, a supplier approached the retailer about retargeting customers on social media. Soon, the company created opportunities for other suppliers to deliver ads that drove customers to the retailer’s product pages.

This was back in 2018. In 2019, The Home Depot’s Retail Media+ (known as RM+) was launched. Brands now have opportunities to show ads on company owned properties, including, the retailer’s app, in-store and email, as well as offsite media channels like social and video.

“We didn’t want it to disrupt the customer experience,” said Melanie Babcock, vice president, Retail Media+ and monetization for The Home Depot. “Our customer spends a lot of time researching on our site before making a decision. They’re thinking about if they have the right tools, skills, time and capabilities for a project. You have a light to install, should you do it on your own? The consideration time is much less for traditional retailers.”

Because of this longer, more involved customer journey, the retailer decided  decided to let suppliers have the lion’s share of the RMN ad inventory. That means that most of the ads served to customers during their journey are endemic products, ones that can be bought at Home Depot.

“Onsight and in-store are very connected,” said Babcock. “We see that in our customers’ behaviors, and we wanted to be additive to that by keeping the customer in mind and not just monetizing the website. We’re bringing the supplier into the customer journey.”

Personalized precision with customers

Supermarket chain Kroger is another major retailer with a robust RMN, called Kroger Precision Marketing (KPM). KPM is managed under a wholly-owned subsidiary, 84.51˚.

“The common denominator is data science,” said Brian Spencer, KPM’s marketing director. “We have a legion of data scientists available under 84.51˚. There’s shelf assortment and other areas of personalization in our stores. That same talent base is what fuels the personalization behind Kroger Precision Marketing as well.”

Prior to starting its retail media business, Kroger built digital experiences for customers to search products, create grocery lists and receive digital coupons. These tools made it possible for KPM to introduce brands in a relevant way.

Unbranded search terms are 90% of the top 500 searches in Kroger digital touchpoints, Spencer said. That means many customers are looking for products without a specific brand in mind. Directing those customers to a specific brand or product is a logical next step in their journeys.

And, because digital customers are multi-taskers, they aren’t only looking for products available at a Kroger store. For instance, you could be planning a Super Bowl party and need to buy snacks. But what if you also are considering a new TV? Cases like that, but also many others, are where non-endemic brands fit in.

“As we explore non-endemic opportunities, top of mind is that this is activated in a way that isn’t intrusive or obnoxious to our consumers,” said Spencer. “If it’s something that makes sense for our shoppers, we’ll take a look.”

Expanding to offsite journeys

“Retail media data is very advantageous to all kinds of brands, particularly in the grocery category,” said Spencer. Grocery shoppers make purchases several times a month, and often multiple times per week. And these purchases cut across many categories. 

“That kind of information is obviously necessary for consumer packaged goods, but outside of CPG there’s greater interest because some of these non-endemic brands are looking for relevant ways to reach audiences,” he said. “Automotive brands or fast food brands, they may think of our data set as another way to activate across the open web.”

Offsite RMN opportunities are the fastest-growing area for KPM. Kroger has been a partner with streaming service platform Roku for three years. And this week, Disney Advertising announced a partnership with KPM for some Disney media properties, beginning with Hulu.

Dig deeper: CTV added to Kroger’s retail media network business

“Brands, but more typically agencies, are able to go in and activate programmatic display and CTV through a DSP of their choice, and set their own safety standards and activate through a self-service portal — and see sales results and optimize against in-store and online sales,” said Spencer.

“Retail media is more and more being considered as just media,” he added. “It’s more and more part of the total touchpoint consideration set that agencies are looking at. The traditional lines between shopper marketing and brand marketing are becoming more blurred.”

The Home Depot is also looking at how to expand RM+ offsite into CTV. It’s also piloting in-store video screens at 50 locations, currently, to see how shoppers’ digital journeys can be enhanced when they get to the store.

“We’re the last mile in advertising, which is always the most expensive part of the journey,” said Babcock. “There’s huge value to our supplier to connect to that customer and also to know more about that customer.”

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