Retail Media, Sampling and Connected Commerce

Path to Purchase Now: An overview of three Institute webinars focused on shopper strategies.
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The relevance of retail media networks continues to grow, accelerated by the massive shift toward online grocery shopping throughout the pandemic. In a Path to Purchase Now webinar discussion in July, titled “Making Actionable Sense Out of Retail Media,” panelists examined how leading brands are utilizing third-party tools to strengthen their retail media activation by reaching shoppers off-platform to drive engagement and, ultimately, sales.

Mars Food, a segment of Mars Inc., has focused on commerce experiences across the shopper’s journey, centering on one of the company’s five guiding principles, mutuality or driving shared benefit. “Brands and retailers have a very symbiotic relationship, so this is another opportunity for us to continue driving mutual growth and adding value to consumers,” said Mars’ Drew Brinckerhoff, omnicommerce marketing director for North America. The ever-changing evolution of shopper behavior, need states, types of baskets and shopping occasions, social commerce, quick commerce and more fill-in trips — “that’s really what’s driving a lot of the changes that we’re seeing,” he added.

Shoppers want to build their baskets faster and easier, and retail media helps them do that, added Brian Spencer, product marketing director with Kroger Precision Marketing (KPM), the retail media business of Kroger. It also makes brand advertising more effective, he argued, both by reducing advertising waste through more precise targeting and by providing accountability through that closed-loop measurement back to sales.

Consumers’ high level of expectations in terms of shoppability has pushed KPM to continue to explore different connectivity options, beyond its owned and operated platform for shoppers to engage and buy brands. “That’s powerful, but we need to be reaching consumers off-site as well,” Spencer said. The company has formed partnerships in television, audio and with platforms like Chicory, “where we’re able to influence those mid-funnel moments of consideration,” he said.

Chicory, a contextual commerce platform, plays right at the apex of that shoppable moment, explained the company’s President Jason Young. During the pandemic, Chicory saw a shift as consumers began to expect to be able to engage directly out of inspirational, product-driving content moments into transactions. “Like the digital shelf, these off-property contextual moments are great opportunities for those types of advertising messages to intersect,” Young said.

While distribution of product from a brand perspective remains critically important, companies must think about merchandising in the traditional way as well as in these channels that didn’t exist before. “In media, we have this amazing ability that has emerged to make almost everything shoppable,” said Brinckerhoff. “We have to make sure that whenever the shopper is in that mindset, they’re able to do that, and that’s what it’s really about.”

As consumers are ingesting more media, so come the opportunities. “Understanding the media consumption habits and how they’re changing along with the impact of the purchasing cycle, and marrying those two together, is really going to be key for how companies move forward as they’re trying to drive that overall sale,” said Amie Owen, U.S. head of shopper at Universal McCann.

The panelists agreed that shopper experience is key when looking for third-party solution providers. Consumers want personalization and a frictionless experience — whether scrolling through a feed or watching a show. “How quickly they can buy it or with how many clicks is something that’s really relevant for us,” Owen said.


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Emerging Options for Product Sampling

As shopper behavior changed during the pandemic, brands were forced to re-examine their traditional methods of product sampling while finding alternative options of getting product in consumers’ hands. In a Path to Purchase Now webinar in August, titled “Emerging Options for Product Sampling,” panelists spoke about the current state of product sampling and offered ideas to meet these changing behaviors and align with today’s retail realities.

“Sampling is the hook that gets consumers and shoppers to come visit us week after week,” said Dilini Fernando, vice president of marketing at Freeosk. “But it’s just one entry point of what’s becoming a messier discovery experience for shoppers these days. Digitizing that moment of truth and being able to bring consumers into what’s going to be a lifelong conversation with the brands is a really important piece.”

Fernando’s team works in partnership with many brands, including Dude Products with its at-home and on-the-go Dude Wipes. For this newer category in the toilet paper aisle, trial and getting people to have an experience with the product is something that a piece of media or a funny commercial can’t do alone, explained Dude Wipes CEO Sean Riley. “We have to get the product in people’s hands and change their minds,” he said, adding that the company stayed committed to its sampling ventures and programs throughout 2020, even as sales were up and inventory was down, because they believe so strongly in sampling’s long-term benefits for the brand.

Tracy Galindo, who heads up cultural and specialty marketing at Jewel-Osco, said her team uses sampling to educate and entertain shoppers, which results in a long-lasting opportunity to relate and connect with them. The retailer’s sampling programs were evolving pre-pandemic, but certainly even more so now. Its team of nearly 150 ambassadors has played a critical role in promoting items — albeit virtually as of late — in exchanges that enabled the retailer to instead mail brand samples and promotional items to consumers. “It’s all about innovation and flexibility,” she said. “[The pandemic] taught the whole world to be flexible with many alternative plans in place.”

Riley said for his brand, in particular, getting the product in people’s hands — especially as toilet paper became scarce early on in the pandemic — helped the company grow the category along with its own sales, equating to a win in any retailer’s book. “Many consumers may have never tried our product before, but statistics show 70% will remain in the category long-term.”

Galindo said that while the COVID-19 crisis forced brands and retailers to step up their game, sampling is “the icing on the proverbial cake for my team. It’s part of what we do when we’re selling programs and opportunities for our brands.” Now, instead of the 30 to 40 tables all providing different opportunities in any given store, Jewel-Osco has shifted to more drive-up-and-go and e-commerce efforts with products and coupons, as well as through its virtual advisors in kiosks with displayed items. “That’s the present and future of sampling,” Galindo said.

Retail will continue to see more digitization, agreed Fernando. “We’ve seen that with the rise of retail media networks — all the different technologies that are helping shoppers along their path to purchase — and sampling is one of them.” Being able to meet shoppers when they want to discover, learn and make the most out of that trip will bring about more opportunities to capture data and fuel the relationships with shoppers.


Connected Commerce: Planning for Success with Omnichannel Shoppers

As shoppers fast-tracked adoption of online grocery early in the pandemic and have since continued to alter where and how they shop, the need to provide them with seamlessly integrated brand experiences has become increasingly important. In a Path to Purchase Now session in August, titled “Connected Commerce: Planning for Success with Omnichannel Shoppers,” panelists discussed how connected commerce can drive results.

The changes in consumer behavior have brought about great opportunities for brands and retailers, said Kandi Arrington, senior vice president of customer development at The Mars Agency and moderator of the webinar. “Shoppers who are making purchases online and in-store spend more, but an important note is that they shop more with brands and retailers that offer consistent customer services online and offline in the store environment,” she said.

As everyone is also rushing to determine the most effective delivery methods to give customers what they want, it’s important to focus on efficiency, demand, seamless experiences and measurement, Arrington noted. “Retailers can’t do this alone,” she added. “They need supplier partners to help lead the thinking, and as much as retailers are pushing for omnichannel, seamless experiences, they don’t have it all figured out. The opportunity is there to lean in and deliver omnichannel-led plans instead of just a media plan that is centered around the shopper and providing what they want, when they want it and where they want it.”

Arrington posed several questions to companies: How are you looking at your categories and driving recommendations? How are you proactively managing JBPs, improving your digital shelf and really coming forward with data-driven strategies? Do you have strong insights? Are your hands-on key partners in-house or externally tapped into your strategy, and really being consistent and connected with the experience that you’re trying to create for the shopper?

“The old model isn’t really relevant anymore,” she stressed. “Companies won’t succeed with a top-down, linear, non-sequential approach.” The purchase or the click can happen at any point and the new model that is forming is shopper-centric, she emphasized. “In today’s environment, being fluid and having the right message in the right medium, creating a precise and targeted plan for that shopper experience is critical to success.”

There needs to be movement away from thinking about the store in a silo and toward a holistic seamless approach of thinking about the shelf in total, both in-store and online, with media that drives a consistent experience for the shopper and retailtainment that lives not only in the store in a demo, but also in the digital space.

But that may be easier said than done, Arrington noted. Retailers are still struggling to connect their teams internally, so it’s very important that suppliers, brand and marketing teams work to break down those silos and look for partners who can help supplement a one-team, one-plan approach internally and externally. “Shoppers are noticing when there are disconnects in experience and when it happens, you don’t get that incremental spend from omnichannel, you get abandoned carts and we lose trust and loyalty,” she said.

Additional highlights from the webinar include:

• Panelists Raquel Crocker, director of sales for the beauty team at Henkel, and Meghan Heltne, Target team lead at The Mars Agency on the Henkel Target business, led session attendees through a recent program at Target for Henkel’s Color Boost line.

• Liv Till, shopper marketing for Walmart and Sam’s Club at Mars Wrigley, and Taylor Lewis, customer development director at The Mars Agency, led listeners through the recent Skittles Gummies launch at Walmart.

• Alicia Wieburg, senior omni marketing manager at Mars Petcare, spoke about the “Extend a Paw & Help Hungry Pets” program at Walmart that recently concluded.

P2PI Member Exclusive: Learn how the “Extend a Paw” program elevated the pet category at Walmart at