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OPINION How retail media networks are impacting retailer share price

Walmart: about to take on Amazon in the UK? (Image: Shutterstock)

Back in 2021, investment bankers Goldman Sachs wrote an investor report called “The Merchant-Media model: A new era for retailers as ad platforms” about Retail Media. It was the first investment bank to see the opportunity. But how has that opportunity evolved since, asks Colin Lewis?

The quote from Goldman in its report that mattered was :“We [Goldman Sachs] believe retailers in the US are positioned to generate $15bn to $20 bn of e-com oriented retail media revenue from CPG manufacturers by 2025; the figure should be substantially larger when we contemplate the potential to tap into media streams from electronic, apparel, sporting goods and other manufacturers for some retailers. While AMZN has to date captured a disproportionate share of the income, we believe Walmart, Target and Kroger are brick-and-mortar leaders where the opportunity appears underappreciated. For Walmart specifically, we believe this new media income stream from CPG could provide a 6-7% EBIT growth tailwind”.

Walmart has grown to a be a $3bn-plus retail media business with a very high margin due to the percentage of sponsored products. Target is claiming its retail media business, Roundel, was close to $1bn in 2023, on the back of $106bn revenues.

The Goldman report was remarkably prescient. At the time, Goldman said that it believed Walmart’s growth targets, which many investors viewed with scepticism, were reachable through this lens and gave it a ‘buy’ rating. Walmart share price has grown 31% year to date and 86% in the past five years. 

There is a new report from Deutsche Bank about Walmart and the impact that Retail Media could have on its share price. The Deutsche Bank report claims that Walmart is growing due to its alternative value streams, which are boosting revenue and driving profits, which the bank calls “five pools of opportunity within the ecommerce world”:

  • Walmart Connect, the retail media network
  • Membership fees
  • Marketplace transactions
  • Walmart Fulfillment Services
  • Data monetisation.

“These five value streams are fast growing with high margins, and management emphasized that these categories are key drivers in the underlying transformation of the business,” according to Deutsche Bank.

Walmart’s flywheel

Walmart have flagged this approach over the years and called it a ‘flywheel’, echoing the Amazon Flywheel that they have been talking about for years.  The CEO of Walmart Inc, Doug McMillon describes it as follows: “Our ecosystem is made up of omni-channel capabilities, stores, service offerings, ecommerce and marketplaces as well as our supply chain combined with 2.3 million associates. Together, we believe these elements produce a flywheel effect which creates relationships where customers view Walmart as their primary destination. 

“Our flywheel is accelerating through offerings such as the Walmart Connect advertising business, Walmart Fulfillment Services, Walmart Health, and our financial services business. These offerings represent mutually reinforcing pieces of our flywheel centered around our customers.”

Back to the question: can retail media networks affect the share price of retailers?

Deutsche Bank says that: “advertising is a significant component” as it is a $3.4bn business growing at 20% to 25% annually, with about a 70% contribution to margin. The bank says it believes that the contribution of ad sales to the company’s gross merchandise volume could grow as high as 8% to 10%, which Deutsche Bank notes is roughly in line with Amazon.

Beyond boosting margins

Retail Media provides an opportunity for retailers to increase their miniscule margins, but it is insufficient on its own. It is just one part of a wider reinvention of retailing that coalesces around monetising all their potential B2B assets into an overall strategy. 

What are the constituent parts of this reinvention? Walmart is showing the way as tithey now talks of itself as more than just a big box retailer: in its 2022 annual report, it makes the claim that it is “creating an ecosystem with our omni-channel capabilities, stores, service offerings, ecommerce websites and marketplaces as well as our supply chain. Selling advertising is another important piece of the flywheel because it helps suppliers and Marketplace providers sell more while creating a new profit opportunity for [Walmart]. 

In other words, the combination of a marketplace capability, a delivery and fulfilment network, additional services andRetail Media can contribute to share growth. 

Most retailers do not have marketplaces and have a poor delivery and fulfilment network.  The opportunity for Retail Media, in other words, has barely started.

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