Brands and Agencies Are Bullish on New Walmart Advertising Partners Program

The API puts the power back in brands' hands, experts say

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Walmart's new self-service ad platform has brands and agencies excited. Walmart
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

The Walmart Advertising Partners program is officially live, giving brands direct access to Sponsored Product campaigns on Walmart-owned platforms. And although advertisers have seen similar functionality elsewhere—and early partners concede the program is kind of a mess—agencies say they’re committed and brands are chomping at the bit.

Early results from some beta API partners, which included managed services company Flywheel Digital, ad-tech platform Kenshoo and ecommerce optimization platforms Pacvue and Teikametrics, certainly seem promising.

For example, gaming hardware manufacturer Razer saw weekly ad-derived sales on rise more than tenfold “at an extremely low [advertising cost of sale (ACOS)]” from Black Friday through Cyber Monday 2019, according to Teikametrics.

Walmart confirmed its plans for this self-service ad platform and API in November. At the time, agencies said it would give advertisers more control over ad spend, and help the retailer better compete with Amazon and monetize its properties.

A few months later, they remain optimistic.

Why being a second mover is an advantage

For starters, they say Walmart has a blueprint from Amazon that its API partners know well. In addition, this blueprint taught brands they can expect real-time ad metrics from self-service offerings instead of waiting weeks for campaign results.

“That’s why brands are so excited—it empowers them to see what’s working and not working in real time and puts the power in their hands to control,” said Melissa Burdick, president of Pacvue.

She noted API partners also give brands, sellers and agencies access to better reporting, including features like:

  • AI-based bid optimization
  • Advanced item/keyword-level analysis, filtering and campaign tagging
  • Dayparting support for campaign bids
  • Easy bulk campaign optimization/edits
  • Voice analytics

What’s more, following in Amazon’s footsteps will accelerate Walmart’s development.

“It took Amazon four years; it will take Walmart three years,” Burdick said. “The trails have been blazed. A lot has been figured out. It’s not as much white space as it was before.”

In fact, Alasdair McLean-Foreman, CEO of Teikametrics, said there’s almost an advantage to Walmart being a second mover. In addition to better, faster metrics, advertisers know the early days of paid search as a self-service means low CPCs and competition, so now’s the time to leap on the opportunity.

“They were very successful [on Amazon]. They want to be early adopters, get learnings and develop best practices with Walmart,” Burdick said. “[They learned] the early bird gets the worm.”

McLean-Foreman agreed there’s a “massive first-mover advantage,” along with “excitement from brands that jump on early and create traction early.”

Nich Weinheimer, general manager of ecommerce at Kenshoo, agreed, adding, “If we learned anything from the winners in the early days of Amazon Advertising, it was the early adopters—no matter the headaches—that took home the winnings and best value from the programs.”

Walmart is still working out the kinks

Weinheimer did not elaborate on the particular headaches, other than to note, “a transition into a new insourced program is certain to come with its fair share of challenges.”

He’s not alone in this assessment. One early partner, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the program, described funky optimization and negative returns.

This source also cited a problem with consistency in brand spend from one month to the next—as in, clients want to spend money on Walmart Sponsored Products, but find they suddenly can’t.

Despite these problems, the partner said clients won’t say no to the opportunity even if the returns aren’t good or the volume drops or is inconsistent.

“I would liken this new platform to a game of craps,” the partner said. “You go in with a certain amount of money and hope to walk away with more, but there’s a good chance you’ll walk away with zero.”

That being said, the partner likened it to the early days of Amazon and Google, and will continue to work with Walmart’s platform as it develops.

McLean-Foreman was less candid, but similarly confident.

“While the API is very new, the Walmart tech teams are pushing out new functionality regularly and so far we’ve been impressed with the enhancements,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a very collaborative process, and we feel good about the partnership.”

Collaboration does indeed seem to be a theme as Burdick, too, described Walmart as “an eager, energetic and collaborative partner.”

CES is Walmart Media Group’s coming out party,” she added. “We have lots of joint meetings. I’m really impressed with how strong the partnership component is—that’s a strength over Amazon—how willing they are; there’s lots of communication, overcommunication.”

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.

Walmart Media Group is ‘very motivated’ to get it right

Michael Mothner, CEO of digital marketing agency Wpromote, agreed that Walmart’s eagerness is real. He said Amazon is at the inflection point of “you guys need us more than we need you,” trailing similar sentiment from Google and Facebook before they pivoted to more of a partner relationship when they realized that’s what’s necessary for continued growth.

“Walmart is leaning into that, coming in to the game as the significant distant second place,” he added. “Walmart is looking at being a good partner to catch up, which is great for us, advertisers and agencies experimenting with tools.”

Burdick, however, said this could be because Walmart has far fewer partners, and it may be a different scenario in a few years. For now, she said she’s seeing a lot of energy and excitement from the Walmart team, which is constantly soliciting feedback about how to help or improve.

“I think it’s just a very different approach, [but it] will be beneficial,” she added. “They have really ramped up their resources and focus on this initiative, and I’m extremely optimistic about the future for them.”

Weinheimer agreed Walmart Media Group (WMG) is “committed to a supplier- and merchant-first philosophy where decisions and plans are made by consensus.”

As a result, he said he expects WMG to “meet customer demands and prioritize their roadmap with the customer’s holistic business needs in mind.”

McLean-Foreman described a “very motivated team” and an interesting story for a new decade as Walmart pivots to compete more with Amazon and moves past its stumbles with

“Walmart is putting itself in that bucket now, using first-party data to create unique connections between buyers, sellers, brands,” he added. “I think that’s very realistic to see that play out over the next few years. Amazon can’t do everything.”

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@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.