Although Amazon has kept fairly quiet about its ad-services pitch to media buyers, analysts believe that marketing services will be a driving force in what sustains and propels the ecommerce giant in the years to come.
“Amazon has to push into new areas,” writes David Farnoush, a media analyst for Harmelin Media, in a blog post. “The retail environment it once dominated has changed. Every other retailer has finally … showed up to the game and [begun to utilize Amazon] learned tactics like price-matching and increasing online selection/availability.”
One of Amazon’s focuses is its burgeoning ad services business, which has grown significantly in recent years. In the company’s Q3 earnings update, digital ad revenues (Amazon groups ad dollars into an “Other” category, which also consists of Amazon Web Services and co-branded credit cards) hit the $960 million mark, more than double the $420 million figure recorded for the same period two years ago, indicating positive momentum.
It remains unclear, however, which Amazon ad units are most lucrative. David Selinger, cofounder and CEO of omnichannel retail personalization engine RichRelevance and former Amazon engineer, said in a recent interview that if he were to guess, “I’d say a quarter of [ad revenue] might come from audience programmatic data arbitrage. Probably two-thirds, or a little more than half, would come from traditional media sales across Amazon properties and then the final quarter or so would come from their new and emerging ad units,” such as new rich-media ecommerce ad formats enabling customers to purchase right in-ad.
These ad units vary significantly across Amazon’s different subsidiaries. “Coupon Ads” are available as placements on Amazon.com and via the programmatic Amazon Advertising Platform (AAP), as well as the Amazon Mobile Ad Network and IMDb.com. Customer review placements are sold as standard display ads on Amazon.com, as well as on AAP, IMDb.com and DPReview.com. In-stream video ads sold through AAP are limited to non-Amazon sites.
And Zappos.com, which operates as a standalone subsidiary, has advertising opportunities available on a custom basis through Amazon Media Group. (This is similar to Amazon subsidiary Woot! that gives advertisers custom daily-deal site stripe placements standard to that platform.)
This variety shows that Amazon has focused on developing ad units designed to accommodate specific client needs. And this focus goes beyond ad units; Amazon has steadily built out its advertising technology stack. Last fall’s debut of demand-side platform (DSP) Amazon Advertising Platform (AAP) brought automated bidding capabilities to Amazon’s already diverse ads products mix.
This gave media buyers access to rich product and purchase-history data for some 215 million active customers and amplified that reach across select Amazon owned-and-operated properties and third-party sites through what Amazon describes as “leading online ad exchanges.”
Ultimately, these “leading online ad exchanges” give the e-commerce giant one of its biggest advantages. Amazon’s position as owner-and-operator of multiple media properties and subsidiary sites potentially extends its value for advertisers beyond first-party retail data and enhances off-site buys.
These subsidiary properties include celebrity news portal IMDb.com (acquired in 1998), high-end women’s fashion retailer ShopBop (2006), discount electronics and home-goods retailer Woot! (2010), digital photography reviews site DPReview.com (2007), Quidsi, which owns 10 properties including Wag.com and Diapers.com (2010) and ecommerce company Zappos.com (2009).
“When you think about their overall strategy, Amazon is bringing together a lot of very important pieces,” remarked Jim Yu, founder and CEO of BrightEdge, an enterprise SEO and content-marketing management platform provider. “They are going after mobile with all of their devices and then, obviously, they have their full store and a partner ecosystem. … They’re [also going strong on] content with IMDb.com.”
At present, Amazon limits programmatic buys to Amazon.com and IMDb.com, as well as third-party sites, according to Amazon Media Group ad specs. As of this writing Zappos.com and Quidsi inventory was not available for bidding through AAP. (Quidsi display opportunities, however, are available through Amazon Media Group.)
From ad bidding technologies and opportunities to ad units—Amazon offers a lot of pieces, and it is mum on how exactly they all link up. The extent to which these various subsidiaries share data isn’t clear either, yet some properties, like ShopBop breakout menswear site "East Dane," prompt customers to log-in to the platform with their Amazon Prime ID to take advantage of free shipping.
“I think the whole approach [Amazon has] taken with Prime and owning the customer and becoming the integrated destination for customers to buy [across channels] is a very powerful thing” for Amazon’s data outfit, BrightEdge’s Yu noted. This, in turn, gives Amazon more fuel for its addressable media push.
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