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Walmart buys tech startup to boost ad business

With Polymorph Labs acquisition, the big-box retailer can better serve targeted ads

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Walmart says it’s buying San Francisco-based ad tech startup Polymorph Labs as it looks to better compete with rival online juggernaut Amazon in targeting shoppers online.

The world’s largest retailer has been quietly building its own advertising business with a unit called Walmart Media Group, though that business is still smaller than Amazon’s.

Amazon’s total ad revenue in the U.S. was US$3.3 billion, or nearly 4% of the total digital ad spending pie in 2017, according to research firm eMarketer. The firm expects Amazon’s ad revenue to hit $19.2 billion, or 11.2%, by 2021. No numbers are available for Walmart.

Walmart said Thursday Polymorph’s technology would make advertising with the discounter easier for thousands of brands while delivering more relevant digital ads to consumers faster.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Polymorph’s technology platform, which includes a high-speed ad server, will enable Walmart advertisers to quickly select audience segments based on shopping behaviour. For example, brands that advertise could quickly identify cat food buyers versus dog food buyers, and then measure whether their ads influenced a sale.

“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,” wrote Stefanie Jay, vice-president and general manager of Walmart Media Group, in a corporate blog post. “No one else can do this at scale like Walmart.”

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