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What does China’s story about retail media tell us about the US’ growth potential?

Retail media advertising has been a prominent part of the digital ad industry in China for many years. While overall digital ad spending in the US far exceeds digital ad spending in China, the same has never been true of ecommerce channel ad spending. However, the US is now growing faster and has more headroom for growth than China.

China’s example would suggest that retail media has enormous headroom for growth in the US. Companies like Amazon have been growing their ad revenues by leaps and bounds, and yet ecommerce channel ad spending will still only represent 14.6% of the US digital ad market this year. In China, the share will be 38.1%.

Advertisers in the US still have a lot more choices than those in China, so an eventual 40% share for retail media seems unlikely. For instance, in China, ecommerce search ad spending will represent 64.0% of total search spending this year, largely because Baidu remains unattractive to many marketers. But in the US, where Google is preeminent, ecommerce search will only attract around 27% of search dollars.

  • The field remains crowded. Traditional search, social media, short-form video, and connected TV (CTV) will all continue to jockey for marketer attention in the US, limiting to some degree how big retail media can get. Whereas in China, only short-form video platforms and Tencent are truly competitive with the likes of Alibaba and co.
  • Still, business is booming. Retail media is having its moment in the US, where we project it will outpace all other forms of advertising over the next several years. We forecast accelerating spending growth this year and next across each of the various metrics related to retail media (total omnichannel, ecommerce channel, ecommerce search, ecommerce display, and in-store).