Understanding Commerce Media vs. Retail Media

Understand the difference between commerce media and retail media & learn how commerce media is transforming digital advertising
Updated on June 11, 2024

A new approach to digital advertising called “commerce media” is grabbing the attention of experts across the ad landscape. Commerce is transforming like never before with the boom of online shopping during the pandemic, growing privacy regulations and cookie deprecation, and the rise of first-party data. As advertisers search for new, advanced advertising tactics to meet these changing times, the power of commerce media is growing — and everybody wants in on it. 

However, many in the industry may be confused about how commerce media is different from retail media. Some use the terms interchangeably, while others view commerce media as a new name for performance marketing or even brand marketing. We’re here to clear things up.  

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What’s the difference? 

Commerce media incorporates elements from all the categories above to meet full-funnel objectives using large-scale first-party data and a wide range of formats/channels (from video and CTV to contextual and sponsored product ads) all while enabling closed-loop measurement.

Retail media refers to the ads placed on a retailer’s ecommerce site or app by a brand in order to influence the customer at the point of purchase. This model enables brands to boost their visibility on the “digital shelf”, similar to an endcap or special in-aisle feature in a physical store. With retail media networks, brands can buy advertising across digital channels owned by the retailer and by third-party media companies to offer ad inventory to brands and engage customers beyond a retailer’s owned properties. Want to learn more? Visit our article with the complete definition of retail media and the keys to make it part of your strategy.

Performance marketing is a primarily bottom-funnel form of marketing focused on generating conversions prioritizing results such as clicks, leads, downloads, app installs, sales, and more. Performance marketing typically utilizes third-party cookies and behavioral data.

Brand marketing is a primarily top-funnel form of marketing focused on driving brand/product awareness and delivering ads that optimize reach and impressions. Similar to performance marketing, brand marketing typically utilizes third-party cookies and behavioral data as well as demographic consumer data.

As a key difference, commerce media expands upon the retail media model by including a broad network of publishers across the open internet, in addition to retailers. Commerce media also enables retail, non-retail, and non-endemic advertisers to use commerce data and AI to more effectively engage audiences on those publishers and retailers.  

Criteo’s Ultimate Guide to Commerce Media provides a thorough breakdown of the similarities and differences across the four areas. Check it out below:

Commerce MediaRetail MediaPerformance MarketingBrand Marketing
Can be used for discovery, conversion, and retention
Some retail media providers offer a variety of display formats that allow brands to build awareness, drive point-of-purchase sales, and retarget retailer audiences.
Primarily a bottom-funnel tactic focused on driving and optimizing for conversions.
Primarily a top-funnel tactic focused on awareness and optimizing for reach and impressions.
First-party commerce dataYes.
Large-scale, first-party commerce data is the backbone of commerce media.
The scale of the data is smaller than commerce media, as it does not include inputs from other publishers/brand sites.
Typically uses third-party cookies and behavioral data and lacks the scale of commerce data that commerce media has. Any first-party data used is highly dependent on 3P cookie matching.
Typically uses third-party cookies and demographic and behavioral data.
Variety of formats and channels (video, CTV, display, contextual, sponsored product)Yes.
All of these options are possible with commerce media.
Retail media platforms that offer offsite ads may include some of these formats, but typically not all of them.
Sponsored products is not an option here.
Sponsored products is not an option here.
Ad space on publishers across the open internetYes.
Commerce media includes ads on publishers as well as retailers.
Some retail media providers offer offsite ads.
Works for non-retailer advertisersYes.
Commerce media works for retail and other businesses, such as classifieds, travel, and finance.
Retail media is focused on helping brands that sell products on retailers.
Connected supply and demand for closed-loop measurementYes.
Commerce media directly connects marketers and media owners.
Retailers and their brand advertisers are directly connected through retail media.

Commerce media brings together the capabilities of retail media, performance marketing, and brand marketing all in one place. Widening the field to include non-retail businesses, commerce media gives marketers and media owners control over how they engage audiences, throughout their purchase journey, and across the open internet. 

Let’s dive deeper into commerce media

Ready to learn more? Now that you know the fundamentals that distinguish commerce media from retail media, performance marketing, and brand marketing, it’s time to take your commerce media knowledge to the next level. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Commerce Media for a full understanding of commerce media, why it’s trending, why you need it now, and much more.  

Elizabeth Kim

Elizabeth Kim is a Global Content Strategist captivated by technology, culture, and consumer behavior. Before joining the world of adtech, Elizabeth crafted brand and content strategies at agencies for clients spanning startups to household name giants. Outside of work, Elizabeth finds creative ...

Global Content Strategist
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