Retail Media Networks: Don’t Forget Shoppers

Updated: Mar 23

By Katherine Barks, The Mars Agency

"Capital is no longer the most important ingredient of who can win at retail. It’s not who can spend the most on ads and get the most eyeballs – it’s who can connect the best.”

Harley Finkelstein, President, Shopify


The importance of the customer experience has never been greater than it is today. Nearly 9 out of 10 shoppers say they’re ready to pay more if it means getting a better customer experience*, and almost 3 out of 4 say that the customer experience influences their buying decisions.^


The reasons why shoppers choose retailers in the first place are shifting, too, as The Mars Agency learned last fall in our proprietary Marilyn® Shopper Journey study (which analyzes 22,800 different shopping trips). While “Out of habit” or “Closest to my home” used to be the main drivers of retailer choice, shoppers today are more likely to be motivated by a positive engagement experience, as well as by positive ratings and reviews from fellow shoppers.


In terms of what constitutes a positive customer service experience, 80% of U.S. consumers point to speed, convenience, and knowledgeable/friendly service as the most important elements.^


It’s also important to note that, with 83% of shoppers blending physical and digital shopping activity seamlessly within each shopping trip#, the physical store remains a key enabler of a connected omnichannel customer experience that will satisfy all their needs.


At the moment, however, only 49% of shoppers currently say that companies are providing a good customer experience.^


Retailers who are busy creating an owned media network that will attract advertising dollars, therefore, must think beyond simply monetizing available touchpoints within their marketing ecosystem. To build a successful, profitable media network, they must design a great customer experience that will provide the foundation for the ad inventory and monetization process. Without an engaged audience, everything else is pointless anyway.


The Mars Agency helps our retailer clients ensure that their owned media platforms support and enhance the customer experience. By leveraging our proprietary shopper research, behavioral insights derived from the retailer’s first-party data, and category expertise, we create shopper journeys that inform the design of an omnichannel experience map.


Leveraging these experience maps, we then create media programs and packages that offer both shoppers and advertisers a seamless, interconnected, and value-added experience through the most relevant retail media touchpoints across the physical and digital environments. The media network isn’t built on monetizable assets, but on proven shopper touchpoints that can be leveraged to deliver advertiser value.


In this way, brand/vendor advertising added into the media ecosystem can enhance the customer experience rather than detract from it. If ads aren’t relevant, or if there are too many delivered within a single shopping trip, they potentially add friction to the shopper journey. And we know that shoppers are increasingly loyal to retailers who provide exceptional value with minimum friction or stress.*


To ensure that their message fits into the media ecosystem, we recommend that brands go beyond filling ad units to create unique, added-value content such as expert advice, education, trial experiences, co-branded promotional programs and personalized engagement experiences. Advertisers who provide more than a brand message or price promotion have a greater chance of catching both the attention and the wallets of shoppers.


Given that shoppers are moving fluidly between the physical and digital stores, it is critical to include physical touchpoints in any media strategy or advertising campaign. It’s also critical to ensure that the shopping experience is complementary across the two channels, with touchpoints and messages that are relevant to each.


Brands are increasingly allocating more of their budgets to retail media, with 48% already devoting 10%-19% of their digital ad budgets>. To ensure these investments pays off, retailer media networks must take a shopper-centric approach to their strategy — an approach that will strengthen audience engagement and shopper loyalty while increasing sales and advertising revenue.


Data Sources:

*: “37 Customer Experience Statistics You Need to Know for 2022,” SuperOffice.com

^: “Future of CX: Experience is Everything: Here’s How to Get it Right,” PWC.com

#: The Mars Agency Marilyn® Shopper Journey Study (October 2021)

>: “Future of Retail Report,” The Trade Desk (November 2021)


About the Author

Katherine Barks is VP-Strategy within the Retail Solutions team at The Mars Agency. She is a business strategist with 25+ years of diverse experience across the many facets of strategy, including consumer/ shopper behavior research, channel and category insight, retail strategy, customer experience design, and measurement best practice. A highly regarded marketer in North America, she has worked with many tier-one CPG clients such as Kimberly-Clark, S.C. Johnson, Unilever, Diageo, Heineken, Pfizer, Pepsi, Campbell Soup Company and General Mills.


In her current role, Katherine is focused on supporting retail strategists and retailer clients including Walmart Canada, Big Y and Hudson's Bay.