TLDR: Yes and no. It’s complicated.

Retail media as we know it is a vital component of digital commerce, and definitely has its roots in paid search. However, they are two distinct facets of marketing, each with its own pros and cons, best practices, and impacts on user experience. 

What is Retail Media and How Does it Compare to Paid Search?

Retail media is when a brand pays to advertise on an online retail platform, app, or marketplace. These ads are commonly optimized through the use of keywords, targeting, demographics, and bidding for high-visibility placements. 

Retail media is, in essence, PPC or Paid Search by another name; the key difference is where the ads are usually shown. Retail media ads are typically displayed on online marketplaces like and—powered by first-party data on-site and off-site—while paid search ads earn the most eyes on search engines like Google and Bing.

Paid search is an undisputed giant in the digital marketing ecosystem, but retail media is catching up. eMarketer predicts retail media advertising spend will grow by 27.8% to reach $23.92 billion in 2021.

Why is Retail Media Taking Off Now?

We’d be remiss to ignore the effect the pandemic, and data privacy restrictions, have had on eCommerce. The demand for online shopping has surged to incredible heights, with brands needing to establish a strong presence wherever their customers are. 

But even without this surge in demand, retail media is a rewarding marketing channel to pursue a number of reasons. For one, retail media provides all of the benefits that PPC does, including:

  • Discoverability in search
  • Visibility for new products and brands
  • CPC-based bidding
  • Control over budgets, spend pacing, and targeting

But retail media also carries other unique advantages.

Closer to the bottom of the funnel. Compared to many paid search ad viewers, shoppers actively browsing a retailer’s website are more likely to be in a buying mindset, and maybe more receptive to the ad’s message. 

Shorter time to purchase. In an eCommerce environment, it becomes much simpler to set up a fast purchase experience. Customers will be able to move from ad to checkout in just a few clicks. 

Excellent product visibility. There are several locations a customer may see your retail media ads throughout their shopping journey, including product search results, on-site display banners, and within “recommended” or “similar items” carousels. 

Physical and geographic accessibility. A given product is often sitting on a shelf in a store, or several stores, ready to be purchased in person, shipped from the store, picked up and delivered, or brought to the shopper curbside. 

Retailers and marketplaces are doing whatever they can to encourage brands to leverage retail media by offering self-service platforms, and better ad placements and formats. The channel earns retailers a sizable chunk of revenue, as seen by e-commerce giant Amazon, who is expected to secure “more than $386 billion in US eCommerce sales” in 2021, with an assist from their expansive suite of advertising options.

What are Retail Media Networks?

A retail media network is established by a retailer, offering advertising capabilities on-site and beyond, powered by their proprietary first-party data. This offering can encompass multiple channels, including their website, online marketplace, mobile app, off-site curated network (for example, Target calls theirs the Bullseye Marketplace), Google Shopping, social media, email, SMS/mobile messaging, and even social influencers. 

These options allow brands to promote products to customers that shop on the retailer’s sites and properties, helping increase sales and visibility while providing a reliable income stream for the retailer. 

One such successful retail advertising network is Walmart Connect, which offers brands the opportunity to advertise with an omnichannel network that spans multiple sections of, social media, in-store displays, and more.

Retail Media is For All Retailers

Retail media advertising is available across countless retailers and product/service categories, going well beyond grocery, and big-box stores like Walmart and Target. Drugstores like CVS and Walgreens have their own ad networks, as do specialty retailers like Home Depot, Ulta, and (soon) Best Buy, who are scheduled to launch their own advertising network in 2022.

Then you have online marketplaces like Etsy, which sells collections of unique products, and eBay, which is about as far from traditional retail as you can get.  

Even apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash are now open to retail media, in an effort to increase ad revenue and provide better customer experiences.  

So… Is Retail Media Paid Search?

Yes—with more accessories! Retail media is a CPC-based model with more channels and targeting capabilities, but its roots are definitely paid search-born, with an in-store and audience-based twist. 

To learn more, be sure to join my session—the first breakout of Hero Conf. Day 1 on January 31, 2022.