Ollie Shayer, Boots UK: “From hype to reality”

“From hype to reality”

2024 is here, and what an exciting year it’s set to be! All eyes will be on Chrome as cookies are finally due to be sunset. Focus on emerging media channels rich in first-party data will intensify, with retail media and Connected TV set to play a big role. Perhaps most importantly, the industry can finally focus on working together to create a better future, with consumer privacy being a priority - as it always should have been. 

In the the first episode in 2024 of our Identity Architects podcast, InfoSum's VP, Corporate Marketing, Ben Cicchetti, sat down with Ollie Shayer, Omni-Media Director at Boots UK, to discuss retail media, first-party data, privacy, and more.

“It's a collective responsibility. It comes to all of us together. [...] There's a responsibility as data owners on what we will do with that [data] and how we will manage it and how we will utilize it and the value we give back to customers by offering them all personalized experiences. But I think collectively we have to look at it and go how do we ensure we continue that? How do we make sure that we continue to keep confidence in our industry to do the right things?”

We’ve already seen a lot of change within the industry, with the focus centered around privacy. But there is still a lot of work to do.

“We have to be honest with ourselves about where we are and what we can and can't do. My biggest concern is sometimes, if we claim to be able to do things we cannot do, then you create an expectation that is undeliverable, and so I think that honesty about that element, as well, where we are today versus where we want to be is really important.”

So true. And one of the major drivers of the industry changing for the better has been the deprecation of third-party cookies. The end is now in sight. However, there are companies out there that are still relying on the old ways. There is still time to adapt, but many businesses risk being in a tricky situation if they don’t act quickly.

“I think the concern is if you don't change, your business is dependent on something that is going to disappear, and if you have considerable dependency on that, that's a real concern. Because otherwise, if that does disappear, how do you supplement that if you haven't done the preparation.”

Absolutely. Everyone should be preparing today. It’s great to see future-proofed and forward-thinking companies such as Boots leading the way, proving that companies do not have to sacrifice performance over privacy - you can have the best of both worlds with the right technology. Boots was ahead of the curve when preparing for the cookieless era. Not only was it an early adopter of data clean rooms, it also recognized the potential of retail media early on.

“We'd always kind of dabbled a little bit in the in-store activity, a little bit in the onsite activity, but we saw that there was a huge potential to take that much further with the data that we had, really beginning to grow into the offsite, really beginning to look at analytics and insight and just to create a real full-service breadth offering for our suppliers to make the richness of that data available to them. And actually to make it actionable which is the key thing. It's amazing to have lots of information, but if it's not actionable, then it doesn't really create anything for them going forward. So that was really a bit of our journey. We've always had a heritage in data. But then being able to create a platform and a way into which we can then service that to our suppliers and to our brand partners has been really important.”

What an amazing journey. Innovating and constantly adapting to the industry changing and adjusting - doing things differently. 

“Everybody is different. I think you have to create a retail media organization that's right for you as a kind of retail media group. And if you try and take someone else's and put it into yours, it doesn't work. It's got to be right for who you are as an organization because we are all very different with different USPs. And the other thing is restlessly innovating. You know, we're in a constantly changing industry, and I think particularly this one, which is new and young, being able to innovate, do things differently, those would be the things that probably have been the biggest learnings.”

That is definitely useful for anyone who's just getting started on that journey. Boots Media Group launched a couple of years ago when retail media wasn’t a trending topic yet - how far we as an industry have come since then is incredible.

“Retail media just didn't exist as a kind of function. I think what we've seen is it's accelerated enormously over the last two and a half years, and what we've done is tried to look at what are the continual areas into which people are looking for opportunities as our brand partners to engage with their audiences. And I put my hat on as a media director and think about what I would want if I was in their shoes and trying for us to replicate what that would be. [...] I think having a lot of first-party data, we've spent a lot of the time over the last few years really connecting that data to different media owners to allow us to utilize that not only for Boots Media Group but equally for Boots. So it was as important for me as a Media Director to be able to access that ourselves and then make that available for our supplier partners. [...] I think we wanted to live in a world where we can activate now and then give results back quickly so that people can make decisions, optimize, and then make change. That's always been our ambition for it, and I suppose the vision for me of where I would see that going, my hope is that one day, retail media will just be media. That's my real hope.”

It was a hot topic in 2023 and it’s certainly one to look out for in 2024. For those just getting started, it’s always worth looking to those who have already embarked on the journey and can share experiences and learnings. We are certainly excited for retail media in 2024. 

“There's so much hype about retail media. When you read the very large numbers coming out of the US around scale of success that some of the large US retailers [...] But my big thing is not to dive straight into it, you have to really think about what it is you want from your retail media group. How does it work with your retailer? How does it work with your brand partners? Because if you just jump in with the auspice of there's a massive opportunity here I think the challenge is it is not easy to do. It's a complex landscape. I think there's lots to be thought about so my biggest thing is really about translating the hype into reality.” 

So true. And retail media is certainly living up to the hype! Thanks, Ollie, for the chat!