‘Everything has changed but nothing has changed’. As Criteo’s managing director of retail media for EMEA, Jill Orr has been on quite a journey since catching the wave of the early days of digital advertising in the original dot com boom and getting her first taste of retail media in 2014.
Working in an emerging market has “undoubtedly” shaped her attitudes to what she has gone on to do and the opportunities she looks for. Coming from a publishing background, the consistent thread in all Orr’s career move choices has been “to be in a learning environment where the market is challenging or evolving, and where the people are excellent,” she says.
Orr has now returned to head up Criteo’s retail media business in Europe – where she spends her days talking to retailers, brands and agency customers, and helping the team seize upon the huge market opportunity in commerce media. A few months into the role, The Drum sat down with Orr to discuss why the opportunity around retail media is so huge right now.
Hi Jill, you’ve had an interesting career shift. Why did you decide to make the move back to retail media, and what was it about Criteo that lured you back into it?
I was excited about an opportunity which would allow me to work with retailers again. Retailers are fascinating and I’m a little bit obsessed with customers and getting under the skin of their needs. They have the best understanding of customers that I’ve ever come across, putting the customer at the centre of each decision – it’s true customer centricity. There’s a richness in working with clients who know their customers inside out and building those partnerships of mutual trust is priceless.
The market has shifted since I last worked in retail media. Previously traditional ad tech was working hard to adapt retailers to their way of thinking, but now Criteo and other companies like us are starting with the retailer in mind and building flexible, adaptive tech that services their unique needs. I enjoy working with technology and it was appealing to work at a company who have placed their bets on making the best platform in the retail space [take the recent acquisition of IPONWEB as an example of Criteo’s technology ambitions].
We’re certainly hearing a lot more about retail media now. What changes have jumped out at you coming back into the industry after five years?
In a way, everything has changed but nothing has changed. Overall market awareness and interest in retail media is exciting, and whether we’re talking to brands, agencies or retailers there is a great engagement about the opportunity. While Amazon has influenced the market here in Europe and created excellent momentum within the advertiser community, retailers in the open web are now providing the promise of secure, brand-safe advertising environments matched with privacy-safe first-party data. This is a compelling option for advertisers in an industry challenged by changes in privacy legislation.
But the fundamentals of retail remain the same – a high margin and valuable stream of media revenue is ancillary to the core retailer business – so the path to activating it can be complex and time consuming. A huge accelerator in getting this right is retailer engagement at the board level. Embedding the concept of retail media within the retailer allows commerce media to move beyond a front-end transformation into a mindset change about how to connect customers with products. When that thinking is included in the retailer’s overall strategy, that’s when they will grow profitability and see long-term future growth.
Do you think there are any other hurdles to overcome in the retail media industry?
Retailers may appear the same from the outside, but we have learned that each retailer tackles the value exchange with customers very differently. One of our challenges is how we adapt to the varied yet specific needs of each retailer whilst providing the right commercial scale for our brand partners and advertisers.
At Criteo, we have been working hard to make our platform easy to use, yet as adaptable as possible. Every retailer we speak to has a different vision of how retail media will work for and support their primary business, for example some retailers work with us to power their entire retail media solution whereas others combine different levels of service for their suppliers and brands. Balancing the right amount of control and flexibility for retailers to attract budgets and effectively manage campaigns to drive sales is a great challenge to solve for.
Given this growth trajectory, how are people keeping up with this new trend?
Coverage and conversation about retail media is at an all-time high – and it’s great to see so many retailers talking about the transformation their businesses are going through.
For those wanting to get under the hood of retail media, Criteo offers a Retail Media University program accessible to anyone online, which provides a solid grounding in retail media principles and mechanics. We’ve already received great feedback from the 1,200 enrolled students across brands, agencies and retailers who are using it to set a base line of understanding across their organizations. And of course, we use it internally at Criteo too!
So now that you’re back in the game – what’s next for retail media?
The opportunity around omnichannel advertising is huge. We know that 4/5 transactions still happen in store, so connecting online measurement with instore activity opens the door to a full customer view. The strength of retail media comes from the connection between, and measurement of, media activation and sales. Activating this insight consistently regardless of the sales channel is our priority.
Of course, retailers know a huge amount about their customers already. A retail media strategy must support the retailer’s ambition and become a silent salesman who understands retailers’ customers and their interests with the end goal of converting this understanding into the right offers to increase loyalty, basket size and customer visits. The time feels right for players in this market to be having some conversations about measurement and standards and define a consistent way of measuring ROAS. Established industry norms will attract more advertising spend.
Five years’ on, it’s clear that while retail media might still be in its infancy in EMEA, it is only going to continue to pick up steam. Those who can adopt a long-term mindset and embed this across the whole business will be in the strongest position to capitalize on this opportunity.