Walmart: Competition From Amazon Is Real, But ‘Omnichannel Is What Makes Us Different’

Walmart launched a self-serve ad platform and an ads API marketing partner program on Friday to make it easier for marketers to buy search ads on its site. Previously, Walmart’s sponsored product ads were only available as a managed service through company reps.

Although Amazon began beta testing its self-serve ad platform in 2017, Walmart has the brick-and-mortar advantage, said Lex Josephs, VP of sales and media partnerships at Walmart Media Group (WMG), the retail giant’s advertising arm.

“It’s all about that omnichannel value proposition,” she said. “You can compare Amazon, Facebook and Google with each other, because they’re mainly online only – but what’s the in-store impact? You can’t really say.”

AdExchanger spoke with Josephs.

AdExchanger: Will WMG make retail and audience data available?

LEX JOSEPHS: My favorite question is when a supplier or a marketer says to me, “Can we have access to your data?” and I just think, “OK … what part?” Because we provide a lot.

Right now, brands have access to insights related to price detail pages, buy boxes and understanding whether someone is in the research phase or a buying mindset, and we can track clicks and conversions. From a targeting perspective, we offer broad keywords, negative keyword matching and the ability for brands to build in keywords and map it all back to analytics tools. We also have something called WMX [Walmart Exchange], which is a very large repository of data signals related to what customers are shopping for.

We’ll get more mature. But considering this is our first phase, we think this is a pretty robust offering.

What will happen in Phase Two?

Automation is the first pillar of our strategy, because that allows marketers to be on all the time. The second phase will be about automating our display offering, because the display format translates into in-store sales.

Walmart’s investment in its ads business is generally characterized as an effort to go head-to-head with Amazon. Do you agree?

Walmart has a massive store footprint and our shoppers are omnichannel shoppers. Ninety percent of our customers still shop in store. You can’t compare that to Amazon, which has an ecommerce-specific customer. I know the market does, but I can’t.

The WMG vision is about being omnichannel and accountable, and we do that with end-to-end insights. We know when a customer sees an ad, follows a certain path and then makes a purchase online or in store. That’s not something many others can do at scale. Omnichannel is what makes us different.

How will you make sure your ad partners thrive? Some big digital companies (ahem, Facebook) have been known to eat their API partners’ lunches and those companies often end up struggling.

Walmart comes at this from a customer lens, which is different. We don’t see ourselves as an advertising company. We’re a retail company that’s trying to help people live better lives and save money. One way we do that is by working with ad tech partners. If that helps increase our SKU selections and enables our customers to find more efficiently-priced products, then everyone wins.

Ad buyers are rooting for you, because they want an opportunity to diversify their dollars away from Amazon. What have advertisers been asking you for?

One of the main reasons we’re doing this program and starting with search is that our marketers and suppliers want to go through partners to allow for real-time optimization, real-time reporting and the ability to customize campaigns with hands-on tools. That’s what everyone has been asking for.

Walmart has been on an in-housing tear over the past year. Is there more that Walmart Media Group wants to bring inside, and what?

It’s been a big year during which we simultaneously restructured, transitioned, transformed and started up – and we happened to do it all inside one of the world’s largest companies.

Last year was about in-sourcing and now we get to build the foundation for long-lasting efficiencies and an accountable advertising business. That’s what we’re focusing on. And we think it’s a pretty great opportunity, considering this is a program that not only rolled out so quickly but didn’t even exist under the previous sales team.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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