Key insights from Propeller Group’s retail media panel discussion

Propeller Group’s latest event, held at the headquarters of its PR client EssenceMediacom, discussed why retail media is such a hot topic right now and the challenges that need to be addressed to optimise its potential.

‘Are you sold on retail media?’ saw a panel of industry experts share their perspectives and experiences in a session led by Branwell Johnson, Director of Content at Propeller Group. The panel featured: 

  • Steve Ricketts, Managing Partner & Head of eCommerce Practice at EssenceMediacom
  • Nick Ashley, Managing Director, Tesco UK at dunnhumby
  • Dr Alice Enders, Director of Research at Enders Analysis
  • David Muldoon, Vice President at MediaLink

Going back to basics

The session kicked off by setting out a definition of retail media and highlighting its growth. Nick Ashley said that it should start with the advertiser. “I think it’s an array of opportunities for the advertiser to reach the customers that really matter to them – either through a retailers’ set of in-store or online assets, or through the use of data.” 

And Steve Ricketts offered some background into the UK’s evolving market. “GroupM estimates the UK’s retail media market value is £3.6bn – approximately 9% of total media spend. This isn’t a medium that can be ignored. And it’s working extraordinarily well in some areas; the sophistication of digital operations and propositions have improved significantly.”

The reasons why retail media has come to the fore over the past year are many. Shopping behaviours have changed accelerated by the lockdowns of the pandemic. Dr Alice Enders began the session with a quick overview of consumer shopping habits and which sectors in consumer packaged goods (CPG) and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) have benefitted most with food, as a regular staple, being the biggest beneficiary of a switch in spending to online.

Steve Ricketts similarly asserted that consumers have played an integral role in retail media’s rise. “We can’t ignore modern consumers’ typical shopping behaviours. More than half of them start their product searches on the retailers’ website rather than on Google. If this is where they’re looking, this is where brands and advertisers should be telling their story – particularly if they want to cross-sell or upsell.”

Dr Alice Enders also touched on the changes being experienced in the digital landscape thanks to privacy legislation as a catalyst for the focus on Retail Media Networks (RMNs). “One of the big shifts across the internet landscape is the new regulatory paradigm around cookies. And whilst this has reduced the opportunity for the open internet, it has enhanced the potential for walled gardens such as Tesco and Boots.”

Understanding retail media’s potential and the factors behind its ascendancy is all well-and-good. However, the panel was tasked with examining the shift in mindset required for marketers and brands to fully grasp what’s to play for. 

Framing the value of investment

David Muldoon set out the benefits for brands and said: “Retail media can influence the consumer journey. It can impact what customers purchase, it can drive loyalty and brand switching – and that makes it an incredibly powerful tool.

He added: “Retail media is incredibly consumer focused. Doing it the right way means offering products based on deep consumer insights and preferences; it’s a highly targeted strategy.” 

Marketers do need a shift in mindset to understand how best to make use of retailer media channels. Clarity on goals and what metrics will matter are paramount. Nick Ashley said: “It all depends on the ultimate objective – is the investment delivering a return? Some brands will prioritise sales, others will want to improve their brand consideration. Irrespective of the goal posts, there needs to be a robust assessment of whether it’s delivering incremental value.”


The panel spent time addressing preconceptions around retail media. Branwell Johnson said: “Retail media’s sweet spot currently lies in the CPG and FMCG spaces. But is there an opportunity for adjacent sector brands to tap into it?” 

Steve Ricketts emphasised that retail media isn’t a one-trick pony. “[It] goes across many brands. All of the brands selling on retail sites or marketplaces should be – or already are – using retail media, be it grocery or electronics. But it goes beyond that. Every category has done shopper marketing in the past, and they’re all searching for new opportunities.”

Another myth to address is that only large, household name brands can benefit from using retail media. Nick Ashley dispelled this drawing on his experience at Tesco and said: “We were frequently approached by small brands with small budgets. And to them I would point to the Clubcard database spanning more than 21m households. That can be sliced and diced in a number of ways – fuelled by data science – to provide opportunities for targeting both niche interests and mass audiences.” 

David Muldoon added that smaller retailers can also participate. “If the product is sold in those smaller stores – there’s an opportunity. But there needs to be reduced complexity. Creating a simplified model is the first step to making retail media more easily accessible to more brands.” 

Reaching full potential

The panel was pressed on what hurdles still need to be addressed within retail media to give brands confidence.

Nick Ashley believed that consistency in measurement and standardisation is crucial if retail media is to take the next step. “It’s historically been hard to size-up the opportunity. The UK’s digital retail media market has been hugely undervalued – but we’re finally seeing some estimates. Brands don’t know how much they should be spending in this space, what their share of voice could be. Having an independent set of numbers that everyone can work with should rectify this.” 

According to Steve Ricketts, a greater appreciation for metrics will empower advertisers to capitalise on retail media. “The digital industry has suffered in the measurement department – things that are easy to measure aren’t always what should be measured. When we look at retail media, we need to make sure we look holistically at how it is driving benefits for the brands outside of attributed sales.” 

Dr Alice Enders sees even more of a role for data to play in the space. “There’s an opportunity to pack a lot more data behind the data you already have. TV may remain a big destination for big-scale brands such as car makers – but there’s a disconnect between TV’s measurement and the attribution and rate of return-on-investment (ROI). And this is where retail media can shine.” 

Retail media’s future

Looking ahead the panel had various thoughts on how things will play out for retail media.

David Muldoon sees the Far East influence playing a major part in its evolution. “What we’re seeing a lot of – both with Chinese ecommerce and Amazon – is the impact of influencers on shopping. The way they’re bringing influencers into the process will likely spread to the UK’s model in the next two years.” 

Steve Ricketts believes deeper data-driven consumer insights will drive retail media’s evolution. “With those insights, a better understanding of how shoppers want to shop will help solve those aforementioned barriers. We’ll see more retailers launch retail media propositions – and they will drive more media placements.” 

Nick Ashley gave a real-world example of how AI – the technological innovation currently on everyone’s lips – can impact retail media. “If you’re launching a brand, you want to know who’s most likely to switch in the category – and then how to specifically target that audience. Integrating AI means that’s achievable quicker, more effectively and in real-time. It’s about really smart, data-driven insights.”

Dr Alice Enders imagined other retailers seeing the opportunity and getting on board, so offering brands more choice. “There isn’t a shortage of retailers that have extensive databases. But on the supply side, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to retail media. Are we going to see other major retailers – such as John Lewis – that possess amazing data and customer loyalty schemes get involved?”

Ultimately the panel agreed that the potential for reaching the right audience at a crucial moment in the buying journey was huge – but a positive consumer experience needed to be at the heart of any strategy and any initiatives that might impact negatively on both brand and retailer had to be avoided.