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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Commerce has evolved. It’s time publishers did, too.

April 10, 2023 | By Sean Deane, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships – Criteo @criteo

Consumer buying habits have changed.

The shift to online buying—a trend that was accelerated by the pandemic—has changed the face of commerce forever.

In the US alone, e-commerce sales reached $1.03 trillion in 2022, with 80% of consumers conducting product research online before making ​a purchase decision​. 60% of consumer touchpoints to drive purchases are delivered digitally, and 79% of consumers made an online purchase using their mobile device​ last year.

Looking ahead, $2.4 trillion​ of retail sales are projected to occur online by 2026, representing 40% of total retail sales​.

What do all these numbers tell us? Today’s shopper journey looks radically different from just a few years ago. From in-depth consumer research, multi-platform purchasing, online and offline touchpoints, and high-ticket purchases taking place on mobile devices, it all adds up to a new consumer paradigm.

So how can publishers capitalize on these changes to create new revenue opportunities?

Retail media 101

To understand the full extent of the commerce media opportunity for publishers, it’s important to first understand retail media.

Retail media—ads placed on a retailer’s e-commerce site or app at the point of purchase—enables brands to boost their visibility in the digital retail space and link ad spend directly to digital retail sales. In 2022, GroupM reported that retail media already represented $101B of global ad spending, with $37.39B in the US (eMarketer).

Commerce media takes retail media one step further, bringing together advertisers and commerce data to engage consumers where they are actively researching, browsing, and buying on the open internet, in addition to retailer sites. This means that brands can pinpoint consumers wherever they are in the customer journey, and wherever they are on the web.

It also opens the door to bring brands and media owners closer together to deliver immersive experiences for consumers and drive commerce outcomes for media buyers.

Partnering with retailers to drive commerce

Another crucial aspect of commerce media is how it brings publishers and retailers together.

Forward-looking publishers are choosing to integrate commerce-focused content with their existing output, while retailers are making it easier for consumers to complete transactions by placing commerce experiences directly on publisher sites.

Commerce media is becoming the new business driver for media owners. They’re tapping into the commerce boom to create new revenue streams and grow advertiser value. For example, Buzzfeed reported $92 million​ in affiliate revenue, growing 26% YoY through sponsored content. Hearst newspapers saw 675% growth​ in digital revenues tied to commerce budgets with first-party data growth​, while Future reported $1 billion​ in commerce sales for advertisers, up 56% YoY, by leveraging shoppable ad units​.

By 2026, $50B of new digital commerce ad dollars will flow to media owners, but where will this ad spend come from? 80% of advertisers say their commerce spend will come from channel shifts.

The anatomy of a publisher commerce media strategy

As budgets from other channels, such as trade marketing, shift online, commerce media will open up new revenue streams for publishers, allowing them to monetize their valuable first-party data and capture additional brand spend.

This also creates an advantage for retailers, whose inventory is limited on their own sites. And it’s here that commerce media really comes into its own.

In tomorrow’s commerce media ecosystem, retailers are the new media owners, with publisher partners fueling the customer journey. Publishers need to understand the position of their content within the shopper journey before starting a commerce strategy: Who is their audience? Can they influence user purchases? How close are they to retailers’ landing pages?

Once a publisher has a complete view of their audience, they can easily gauge their affinities with product categories. Publishers can then use these commerce affinities to tailor their content and affiliate marketing strategies to their particular audience while integrating relevant commerce placements, like native product recommendation widgets, shoppable creatives, and embedded purchase links.

Above all, a commerce media strategy will minimize disruption to the publisher’s user experience, ensuring relevant, tailored advertising without compromising on return visits.

Connecting commerce and content

So, what does the road ahead look like for publishers looking to tap into commerce media?

Looking at the industry, especially in light of the upcoming cookie deprecation, the die is cast: content and commerce will continue to converge.

How publishers capitalize on this paradigm shift remains to be seen, but it’s likely that many will orient themselves toward commerce-focused content. Expect to see more ad formats, like shoppable ad units, which drive users back to retailer experiences, as well as affiliate programs to push incremental revenue. Innovative publishers may also choose to use sponsored listings and curated digital storefronts tied to retailers which align with the unique interests of their users.

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