9 key people at companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger who are making e-commerce advertising into a $17 billion market

April 20, 2021

View the original story on Business Insider written by Lauren Johnson.

  • Advertising on e-commerce sites has been a bright spot during the pandemic for retailers as online shopping takes off.
  • Amazon has long been the biggest ad platform but Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid and others want to challenge its dominance by pitching advertisers things like more granular data and new audiences.
  • Business Insider assembled a list of nine people leading advertising at the retailers. They include Walmart Media Group’s Rich Lehrfeld and Instacart’s Seth Dallaire.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The advertising industry has taken a big hit from the pandemic, but e-commerce companies are reaping the benefits.

With people shopping more from the safety of home, advertising on e-commerce platforms has boomed during the coronavirus. E-commerce advertising is expected to rise 39% to $17.4 billion in the US this year and represent 12% of digital ad spend, according to eMarketer. 

Amazon has long dominated e-commerce advertising but a number of companies like  WalgreensInstacart, CVS, and Boxed are getting in on the action as retail’s profit margins get thinner. They’re pitching advertisers on data and audiences and rolling out new advertising platforms and features.

“Retail media is having a moment right now — COVID has shifted a ton of sales online, and online sales are less profitable than in-store sales,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis. “Retailers have to do everything they can do to improve profitability.”

Business Insider identified nine executives ranging from Amazon Advertising’s Colleen Aubrey to Kroger’s Cara Pratt who are leading this trend. We compiled the list through our own reporting and by talking to sources in the industry. 

One notable company missing from the list is Target. Target’s top advertising leader Kristi Argyilan is leaving the company’s in-house advertising firm Roundel, and Target said it would fill the role through an external search.

Below are the nine executives in alphabetical order by last name.

Colleen Aubrey, global VP of performance advertising, Amazon

Colleen Aubrey Amazon

Key stat: Amazon is on track to make $13 billion in US ad revenue this year, according to eMarketer.

The executive to know: Amazon quietly elevated longtime advertising exec Colleen Aubrey to take on a larger role after ad sales veteran Seth Dallaire left to become Instacart’s chief revenue officer last year. Reporting into Amazon’s executive suite, she oversees Amazon’s search advertising business and has worked on products to build brand loyalty and awareness on the platform. She was a major face of Amazon’s ad sales org at AdCon, Amazon’s annual advertising conference, this year.

Amazon’s pitch: Amazon is the biggest game in e-commerce advertising. The retail site is the third-biggest digital advertising seller, behind Google and Facebook, and dominates ad budgets from e-commerce sellers and brands. Amazon pioneered keyword-based search ads that pop up on its website and app when people shop for a specific product like “red dress” — an advertising tactic now used by most e-commerce companies. Most recently, Amazon has beefed up its sales teams and pitch for brands to run ads using Amazon’s data beyond Amazon’s properties like in its connected-TV properties and programmatic advertising.

What advertisers say: While other retailers have brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon’s traffic is six to seven times bigger than Walmart and includes thousands of sellers, making it the biggest platform for e-commerce advertising, said Sreenath Reddy, founder of Intentwise, an ad management service for Amazon and Walmart sellers.

“The distance between Amazon and everybody else when it comes to online audience sizes and online engagement is massive,” he said. “My sense is that as these [other] retailers aim to get more search traffic, they’ll always be hamstrung by the limitations of a purchase happening on their site.”

Erin Condon, VP of front store and omnichannel marketing, CVS Health

Erin Condon CVS

Key stat: CVS has 10,000 stores in the US with 75% of Americans living within five miles of a location.

The executive to know: Condon has held the role of VP of front store and omnichannel marketing at CVS since 2018 and was previously senior director of marketing. Earlier, she had marketing analytics and management roles at UPromise, Sallie Mae, and Discover.

CVS’ pitch: CVS has run an advertising business that helps brands promote products in stores for years but in August, rolled out a media network to expand its ad sales to social, search, programmatic and video ads on other media properties like Facebook and Google. CVS has run more than 100 campaigns on its media network.

Condon said one of the big ways CVS differentiates is with custom campaigns using CVS’ data. CVS also makes assets and creative for brands including branded storefronts and landing pages on CVS’ digital properties.

“The supplier is able to make more efficient use of their media dollars and get more relevant [ads] in front of the consumer,” she said.

What advertisers say: Elizabeth Marsten, senior director of marketplace strategic services at Tinuiti, said that while CVS’ audience is smaller than Walmart and Amazon, CVS produces a strong return on ad spend because there is less competition.

She also said CVS has an advantage in its Extracare loyalty program data that goes back many years. 

Seth Dallaire, chief revenue officer, Instacart

Seth Dallaire, Chief Revenue Officer, Instacart

Key stat: Instacart works with more than 500 retailers, reaching 85% of Americans.

The executive to know: Instacart hired former Amazon ad sales leader Seth Dallaire last year to build a business letting advertisers promote products in search results. In addition to Amazon, Dallaire has also held sales roles at Yahoo and Microsoft.

Instacart’s pitch: Online grocery has long sat on the backburner of retailers’ e-commerce initiatives — until the coronavirus hit. 

Instacart’s on-demand grocery shopping business skyrocketed with people shopping from home. It hired hundreds of thousands of contractors who pick up and deliver groceries from retailers like Kroger and Costco. 

Instacart divides advertisers into five tiers that rewards top-spending marketers with perks like access to an API program and exclusive data about the brands people buy the most.

What advertisers say: Instacart’s ad business is still small, which makes its advertising twice as efficient as Amazon or Walmart’s, said Sam Jennings, lead client strategist at e-commerce agency Marketplace Strategy.

However, Instacart doesn’t neatly fit into marketers’ existing spending buckets, he said.

“Instacart isn’t a retailer and it’s not a digital marketing platform, so I think a lot of people are having a hard time figuring out where budgets come from,” he said.

Edward Fong, director of business intelligence, Boxed

Edward Fong, Boxed

Key stat: The average Boxed shopper buys 10 items and spends $100 per order, with 70% of people buying more than once.

The executive to know: Fong is one of the first employees of Boxed, a e-commerce wholesale retailer, and helped onboard brands like Kellogg’s to the platform. He’s also developed tools like a data portal that shows brands stats like inventory levels. More recently he’s focused on Boxed’s advertising business.

Boxed’s pitch: The online retailer sells ads to brands like PepsiCo and Kind Snacks that can be targeted by location and search terms. A search for “soda,” for example, could show an ad for PepsiCo-owned Izze.

Boxed’s pitch is that it has data that advertisers don’t typically get from Amazon and Google like where and when people shop. The data is then used to recommend products to people and target ads.

“[Advertisers] know that things are being sold but they don’t know at a detailed level,” Fong said. “We’re willing to share data back with them.”

What advertisers say: Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis, said that because Boxed’s sales are smaller than Amazon and Walmart’s — Boxed says that it sells about 1,600 products — it can win by emphasizing data and a good user experience.

“As you get smaller, you need to offer more benefits — there is valuable data that retailers have not historically wanted to share,” he said.

Alex Kazim, VP of global advertising, eBay

Alex Kazim ebay

Key stat: 182 million people a month shop on eBay.

The executive to know: Kazim is a longtime eBay employee who rejoined the company in June to lead its advertising business. He is an entrepreneur who co-founded news subscription service Ongo and has held leadership roles at Skype, HP, and FuelX.

EBay’s pitch: EBay was early to the e-commerce boom in 1995 and today has 1.5 billion live listings from sellers. Sellers can promote their listings through display ads, promoted listings, and native placements like email and push notifications within eBay’s app.

EBay also gives advertisers data like how many items someone looks at and what devices they use that is used to target campaigns. The company recently rolled out a first-party data tool that targets ads without using third-party cookies that are being phased out due to privacy concerns. 

In July, eBay spun off its classified advertising business for $9.2 billion in cash and stock to online retailer Adevinta.

What advertisers say: EBay’s e-commerce dominance has waned in recent years and it’s marketplace is a fraction of the size of Amazon. Laura Meyer, founder and CEO of the Amazon-focused ad agency Envision Horizons, said eBay’s smaller size makes it a tough sell with advertisers. 

One of eBay’s advantages over Amazon is that its design makes it easy for advertisers’ ads to stand out to shoppers.

“As a result, Amazon can get a little messy if there’s a ton of people selling your product,” Meyer said. “The advantage of eBay advertising is that if you drive someone to your page, you’re going to be the one getting the sale.”

Luke Kigel, VP of Walgreens integrated media and head of Walgreens Advertising Group

Luke Kigel, VP of Walgreens integrated media and head of Walgreens Advertising Group

Key stat: Walgreens has 100 million loyalty card members.

The executive to know: Kigel joined Walgreens in 2019 and is tasked with launching Walgreens Advertising Group, a new advertising arm. Earlier, he worked in media and digital roles at Johnson & Johnson and at ad agencies like Universal McCann and Mediacom.

Walgreen’s pitch: Walgreens launched Walgreens Advertising Group to get more into retail media advertising. Its pitch is that advertisers can use Walgreens’ loyalty data to create audiences for targeting purposes and a demand-side platform for buying programmatic ads on publishers’ websites and social ads on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Walgreens has long run an advertising business but formalized it with the new group and plans to make a bigger pitch to ad agencies, Kigel told Business Insider.

What advertisers say: Tinuiti’s Marsten said that Walgreens’ big loyalty program differentiates it. Walgreens has also put a big emphasis on its mobile app that lets shoppers store and use coupons, similar to Target’s mobile app.

Erik Keptner, CMO, Rite Aid

Erik Keptner, Rite Aid

Key stat: Rite Aid has 2,500 stores in 19 states.

The executive to know: Keptner joined CVS last year after working in marketing roles at Western Food Corp. and Giant Food Stores. He is responsible for pushing Rite Aid into more e-commerce and partnerships, and launched a program where Amazon shoppers can pick up packages at Rite Aid stores. Rite Aid also has a deal with Instacart to deliver products to homes.

Rite Aid’s pitch: A newcomer to digital advertising, Rite Aid recently rolled out a retail media network called Rite Aid Performance Media that places keyword-targeted search ads on its website and app.

The pharmacy chain outsources its sales to tech firm Quotient, which sells ads on Rite Aid’s website and also co-branded ads on social media, programmatic, and digital out-of-home with messaging that a supplier’s product is available at CVS.

What advertisers say: Tinuiti’s Marsten said that Rite Aid’s ad business is an easy way for retailers to test advertising. A self-serve platform lets advertisers turn off and on search ads, which are easier to manage than TV or display advertising programs.

“It’s a good gateway — it gives you an always-on ability that you can control,” she said.

Rich Lehrfeld, interim head, Walmart Media Group

Rich Lehrfeld, senior VP of marketing and interim lead of Walmart Media Group

Key stat: People visit Walmart.com 12 million times a day.

The executive to know: In October, marketing exec Lehrfeld was named interim head of Walmart Media Group, filling a role that VP and general manager Stefanie Jay held. The longtime American Express marketing executive joined Walmart last year as SVP of brand, creative, and media and filled in as Walmart’s interim CMO recently.

The pitch: Walmart’s ad pitch centers around data that shows advertisers how people shop in-store and online after seeing an ad. Walmart has recently started handling its advertising in-house after splitting with longtime agency Triad Retail, building out a tech stack and self-serve platform that allows adtech companies to manage ad campaigns for big spenders. 

What advertisers say: While still smaller than Amazon, Walmart’s e-commerce sales are significant enough to command advertisers’ budgets.

“Walmart Media Group is nicely positioned in that direction,” said John Lods, CEO at ad tech and media-buying agency Arm Candy. “The challenge of WMG and the technology that they have is that it’s pretty rudimentary.”

Cara Pratt, SVP, Kroger Precision Marketing and 84.51°

Cara Pratt

Key stat: Kroger’s loyalty card data includes 60 million households and tracks 96% of sales.

The executive to know: Pratt has worked at Kroger for three years, where she’s responsible for product development, sales and advertising operations. She previously worked for shopper marketing firm Dunnhumby, which Kroger acquired in 2015. Pratt is also a member of the leadership team at 84.51°, Kroger’s in-house analytics and advertising team. 

Kroger’s pitch: Kroger has loads of data from its big loyalty program that spans its chains including Gerbes, Harris Teeter, and King Soopers.

Kroger’s ad business has two parts: One arm helps suppliers run direct marketing campaigns like emails and promotions, and the other uses Kroger’s shopper data from 60 million households to target ads to people visiting Kroger’s website and app.

Kroger has also worked to prove people bought a product after seeing an ad, through efforts with Microsoft-owned retail tech firm PromoteIQ and by measuring sales from ads served on Roku’s streaming platform. Kroger also has a deal with Pinterest that uses shopping data for ad targeting on Pinterest.

What advertisers say: Kroger’s ad sales dig deep into its trove of first-party shopping data, said Tinuiti’s Marsten.