Walmart acquires adtech startup Polymorph Labs to scale up its ad business

Amazon has a large and growing advertising business, but rival Walmart’s own ad business is much smaller. It’s now working to change that. Earlier this year, the retailer consolidated ad sales for its stores and websites and said it was ready to start monetizing its shopper data on a grander scale. Today, its efforts continue as Walmart says it has bought the advertising technology company Polymorph Labs to help it better compete via online digital ads, targeted using shopper data.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The San Francisco-based startup’s technology and assets will allow Walmart to deliver more relevant ads to online shoppers, the retailer says. Meanwhile, Polymorph’s team will join Walmart’s in-house advertising business, the Walmart Media Group.

Specifically, Polymorph’s technology includes a high-speed ad server, a self-serve interface and server-side header bidding. This, says Walmart, will make advertising easier for thousands of brands and will deliver more relevant ads to consumers — and quicker than typically possible because of Polymorph’s “much faster” client-side server.

The technology complements Walmart’s existing adtech investments, including its omni-channel ad-targeting and measurement solution, and will allow it to later expand into new areas like real-time auctions across multiple pricing models (cost per click, cost per impression and cost per conversion).

At Walmart, Polymorph’s technology will allow advertisers to target segments based on shopping behavior.

For example, an advertiser could choose to target a cat food buyer instead of a dog food buyer, then automate ad delivery and measure whether those ads led to sales.

The acquisition comes only months after Walmart brought its ad sales in-house in an effort to build out a bigger advertising business. The move also allows big suppliers — like P&G, Unilever and Mondelez — to interact with one ad team instead of different groups within and outside the retailer.

It also allows advertisers to leverage a unique combination of in-store and online shopper data from Walmart’s hundreds of millions of customers, making ad buying more efficient.

The acquisition comes at a time when Amazon has been rapidly growing its ad revenues by allowing merchants to pay for better placement in search ads. In February, research firm eMarketer upped its estimates as to how large Amazon’s ad business had become, in fact. It said that Amazon’s ad revenue had totaled $3.3 billion for 2017, up from an earlier estimate of $1.9 billion. And it said Amazon was on track to increase its ad revenues to $15 billion by 2020.

Walmart, on the other hand, has room to grow.

“We have a tiny ad business,” CEO Doug McMillon told investors last October, according to a report by Bloomberg. “It could be bigger.”

Walmart says 90 percent of U.S. consumers shop at Walmart every year and its stores and websites see nearly 160 million visitors every week. It declines to say how many website visitors it has, but comScore estimates more than 100 million monthly actives.

Next month, Walmart says it’s hosting “Fifty-Two Sixty,” an event where CMOs, agency folks and senior brand marketers will hobnob with Walmart execs to talk about how brands should be thinking about their retail strategies.

“Walmart Media Group enables brands to reach more customers at scale and measure advertising effectiveness across the entire shopping journey,” said Stefanie Jay, vice president and general manager, Walmart Media Group, in a statement about today’s news. “Simply put, we can help brands understand if someone saw their ad on Walmart’s platform or across the internet, and then purchased the product in-store or online. No one else can do this at scale like Walmart.”

Polymorph Labs was founded in 2013, and had proven its tech over the past five years, Walmart notes. Previously known as AdsNative, Polymorph Labs had raised $10.6 million from Rakuten Ventures, Interwest Partners and Onset Ventures, according to Crunchbase.

The company had fewer than 50 total employees, including full-time employees and contractors. Founders Satish Polisetti (CEO) and Dhawal Mujumdar are both joining, and Walmart is making offers to the full-time team.