Andy Robinson is CEO of Grocery Shopping Network, an online ad network.
AdExchanger.com: What problem is Grocery Shopping Network solving?
GSN enables grocers to significantly expand digital shopper engagement, value and total in-store and online sales. Likewise GSN provides a means for advertisers to reach and target their best customers on a per store basis and/or at a critical "Moment of Purchase Decision" on the grocer's website, right when shoppers are making their shopping list and purchase decisions. GSN does so by providing a state-of-the-art suite of shopping planning and saving solutions for grocers' websites. This platform provides their customers with tools which makes the grocery shopping experience easier for their customers to plan their shopping trip to the store (or, in some cases, order from home delivery). These shopping solutions help customers save money, save time, learn new recipe or cooking ideas, and shop for healthier choices. Grocers who have deployed GSN's platform to power their websites typically see an increase of 30% or more of the best customers spend. These websites now reach over 7 million people planning 21 million shopping trips a month. This, in turn, creates a "Moment of Decision" advertising opportunity for CPG brands that want to influence the purchase, and is the essence of GSN's Ad Network, ‘GSN StoreSite™'. GSN's unique access to online and offline purchase data provides advertisers tremendous insight to sales impact, audience makeup, and product brand/category performance, including measurable ROI from the advertising spend.
Do you consider yourselves an ad network? What is your view on the oft-cited view that ad networks are on their way out?
The advent of DSPs, RTB, and ‘audience buying' are the new trends that are causing some to say that ad networks are old news. GSN offers a strong product in this new area, GSN OutReach™, which delivers audience in unique geo-targeted clusters which are identified via GSN's extensive shopper data integrated with other demographic and lifestyle data. Our GSN StoreSite™ is an ad network, but is a unique product in the network world. It is not a network of loosely related sites, but is a network of grocery store websites all providing GSN's platform functionality. For the CPG advertiser who wants to reach as many shopping dollars as they might reach via the large chains, this network allows a single buy to reach 7 million shoppers planning 21 million monthly shopping trips at over 6,000 grocery stores.
How do you differentiate among your competitors? And, is proprietary technology key to your pitch?
GSN's primary difference is the level of insight and direct shopper behavior that drives both the GSN Ad Network solutions. GSN starts with the deepest set of online activity to offline purchase knowledge in the industry. Our 1.7 million shopper online panel members are also part of GSN's database of 35 million shoppers' offline purchase data – this depth of shopper data provides a true end to end measurement and insight that is second to none within the industry. When applied to the GSN StoreSite™ ad network, this shopper data enables GSN advertisers to target and impact category specific shoppers at the precise time they are deciding what to buy. GSN OutReach™ uses this depth of knowledge to accurately define neighborhood segments of Product/Category Purchase Cluster Behavior as a basis to overlay the demographics, psychographics, and social behavior in a way that has never been available before.
What are you seeing on the client-side today? Any trends you can share?
We continue to have excellent results with clients that understand the combination of impact from reaching premium grocery shoppers and insight backed by offline purchase results and data. Both CPG marketers and their agencies are increasingly demanding the insight to a real connection between online behavior and offline sales – and we're delivering on this. For promotional efforts and shopper marketing programs – we're seeing a reaction to the realization that grocery shoppers need to be influenced prior to entering the store – and our platform is a perfect fit for extending promotions and shopper marketing tactics beyond traditional in-store promotion. We are seeing a great interest in ways to tie online communication with offline purchase results.
Are you able to help clients tie their online advertising to offline sales? What are your thoughts here?
Yes, definitely online activity to offline purchase behavior is in our DNA. It is a core difference to the GSN offering into the marketplace. GSN collects transaction level data (t-log) from many grocery retailers across the USA, currently over 6 billion transactions over two years. GSN already enjoys the largest online to offline purchase database. GSN plans to expand our online panel to 5 million members and our offline transaction level data to over 60 million shoppers in the next 12 months. This growth will continue over time. At the same time, we are already looking for ways to provide advertisers with custom insights to their products and categories through the development of their own custom shopper panel. In a recent proposal we were able to provide a baby products manufacturer shopper insights from a database of 55,000 households buying baby formulas. Their comment was they had never seen this level of measurement for a category that represents less than 3% of the population.
Please discuss your data strategy. For example, among participating grocery store websites, will you leverage aggregated cookie data for ad targeting purposes?
Yes we will use cookie and offline purchase data for ad targeting purposes. GSN uses data to serve the shopper and make their shopping experience better. In doing so we expand the average households shopping basket by 45% by understanding the attributes of what they buy and their unique behaviors in each product category. We make nearly 700 million "buy" suggestions a week to consumers based on what is on sale in the stores. This program will be expanding in the future to include implicit offers to highlight seasonal items and offers directly from the CPG brands. It is a win-win-win capability to maximize the value provided to shoppers, while increasing sales to the retailer and market share to the CPG brand.
On the media side, will you use ad exchanges and/or networks to buy media on behalf of grocery store clients in order to target shoppers?
Absolutely! GSN OutReach™, uses the knowledge of online locations to determine the precise market area around each store and fine tune selection based on the desired target audience. We just announced a turnkey ad product that displays the current week's advertised specials in an ad unit to create the first digital distribution option for the traditional weekly circular.
What needs to happen with CPG advertisers and the grocery stores to make this an even more compelling proposition? Any key drivers you're looking at?
This digital landscape for advertising is new and advertisers need more information – specifically to know that traditional broad communications techniques now can have a second placement at the time of decision. In the traditional "funnel" most advertising focused on the top of funnel or mass approach. In the digital world of websites, social and mobile, folks like GSN have created a ‘bottom of funnel' compliment at a critical moment of shopper purchase decision. With the generational trend in consumer behavior towards pre-planning purchases, this second placement needs to find a mainstream acceptance. This advertising category already exists, it is just not widely recognized. Once the brands within the grocery space become aware, I do believe the migration will be fairly quick. Those who get there early will be able to drive influence of their products and grab market share and household penetration with unprecedented success. The ROI measurements GSN provides, as well as other measurements, will ultimately drive advertisers to the most efficient spend. The economy will change the messaging but not the use. For example, in an improved economy the message will be used to find market share for new products, while in a down economy the focus maybe on maintaining market share. The introduction of causal areas, like Health and Wellness, where brands want to have a platform to express a point of view and highlight their offerings will also be a key area where this "bottom of funnel" placement will cause a migration of advertising focus.
Re: growing the business, how many employees are you today? Any plans on reaching out for funding in the near future?
Our base of employees is a total of around 55 people today. We plan to grow commensurate with our footprint and reach. Our company raised series A funding in 2007 with VantagePoint Venture Partners which helped enhance the platform to its current state. Based on the continued growth of market demand placed on GSN, we are open to new strategic funding discussions.
A year from now, what milestones would you like Grocery Shopping Network to have accomplished?
We are striving to reach 20 million shoppers planning their monthly trips, and impact a significant percentage of shopping decisions. We have an initiative to increase the registration of users and our database of registered users to nearly that level. Lastly, we have new initiatives in critical areas for consumers beyond saving time and money, particularly in food choices related to health.
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