Even though advertisers have been willing to pour millions of dollars into the retail media over the past years, standardization has never been the strongest side of the niche. Well, it seems like in 2024 things are about to change, are they?

If there’s a niche in online advertising that has been barely or at least less affected by the recent economic turmoils, it’s retail media advertising. In fact, this digital ad sector has been one of the fastest growing ones across various regions, with the retail media ad spend in the U.S. alone projected to increase almost twice in 2023 – 2027, up to the impressive 109,400,000,000 USD  (per Statista). 

Nonetheless, the tracked galloping growth of retail media advertising doesn’t necessarily mean that all parties involved are getting what they need. On the contrary, according to eMarketer, in 2023 over 60% of marketers admitted that lack of measurement standards remained a major obstacle to investing into retail media networks (RMN), along with the complexity of cross-retail performance analytics capabilities.

And, of course, at some point IAB couldn’t but step in. 

How MRC & IAB Partnered to Enforce Standards for Retail Media

Back in 2023, IAB partnered with MRC to develop and release the first draft of recommended measurement standards for the retail media niche, apparently hoping to start the global movement towards the stricter standardization of this niche as a whole. However, it wasn’t until the beginning of 2024, when the final version of the document was published, this time, accompanied by the detailed commentary on how to apply the recommended principles, compiled in collaboration with BCG. 

Namely, the 15-page explanatory guide covers data processing requirements, delivery and viewability of digital ads (e.g. viewable impressions, clicks (including linking clicks to verified online ad impressions & conversions, IVT & SIVT, etc.), attribution metrics measurement (including sales & visits) in the consistent attribution windows, and, certainly, the transparency & accountability of measurement practices, expected from the inventory sellers. 

Peculiarly, a separate part of the explainer is specifically dedicated to incrementality measurement guidelines & best practices, which cover a vast range of methodologies, from the so-called randomized control trials to match-market tests and synthetic control methods. The latter, in particular, imply measuring sales lift using groups of non-exposed consumers (similar to those exposed to onsite, offsite and digital ads) upon the ad campaign. 

The guidelines also extend a range of suggested metrics, going beyond the mere measurement of ROAS to include the retail-specific ones, too, such as: 

  • Digital Shelf Share; 
  • Category Share Growth (and Category Change);
  • New-to-Brand, New-to-Category and  % of New Buyers;
  • Purchase Frequency;
  • Halo Effect & Assisted Outcomes measurement, and many more. 

More importantly, the explainer explicitly defines the top-quality reporting as such, where publishers will go an extra mile, i.e. beyond the core (yet very specific) measurement requirements, by adding extra metrics and advanced reporting capabilities, so that their advertising partners can analyze retail media ad performance better. 

How IAB Europe Joined the Fight for the Retail Media Standards

Non-surprisingly, IAB Europe was the second industry body to join the retail media ad standardization race, with their suggested guidelines draft having been released in Q1 2024 upon the organized webinar for industry players. 

While being far less specific that the IAB’s detailed list of requirements, IAB Europe’s guidelines also pinpoint the importance of measuring both the so-to-speak media metrics (ad impressions, clicks, traffic quality & viewability, among others) and attribution parameters (including incremental ROAS (iROAS) in the clearly defined & comparable conversion windows, new-to-brand/new-to-category customer increase, HALO effect measurement, and more), while also outlining the suggested best practices for retail media publishers in one-page overviews

How Things Are Going Today, or Are We There Yet?

If you got tired just reading through the list of strict requirements towards sellers of retail media inventory, you’re probably not alone. 

And the truth is, even though the niche itself is growing at a relatively more dynamic pace than other sectors of online advertising, this doesn’t necessarily mean that publishers are willing to invest these many extra operational resources to implement all of the recommended standards in the short- or mid-term perspective, especially in view of the upcoming deprecation of third-party cookies.  

So, no, we’re not even close to “getting there.”

However, this doesn’t in any way mean that brands and agencies will continue suffering from the lack of standardization in the next few years. 

The trick is, a potentially efficient solution will be dependent on the cohort of retail-focused adtech vendors, specifically aiming to assist publishers in the implementation of new reporting capabilities in the verifiable and privacy-centered manner. 

And in this respect, the obvious financial burden on such implementation will be put on the companies on the Buy side (either directly, via a contract-based partnership, or indirectly, through the inevitably increased bid floor CPMs). 

However, even if those are really willing to invest more in the industry rules change, this is just an emerging trend at best.