Wal-Mart Partially Lifts Data Ban, Will Give Numbers to Nielsen

Decision Should Help Industry-Wide Initiative to Measure In-Store Media

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- Wal-Mart Stores is putting its data where its mouth is -- partially lifting its six-year ban on providing sales data to syndicated market-research firms as part of an effort to develop measurement of in-store marketing on par with that of other media.
Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn said Wal-Mart would provide the sales data only for use by members of the Nielsen In-Store syndicate and only for use in that program, not broader applications.
Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn said Wal-Mart would provide the sales data only for use by members of the Nielsen In-Store syndicate and only for use in that program, not broader applications. Credit: Rohanna Mertens

Wal-Mart Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn said that the world's biggest retailer will provide sales data from 1,000 of its more than 3,000 stores in the U.S. to the Nielsen In-Store service, an initiative also backed by the retailer's biggest customer -- Procter & Gamble Co. -- and the media agency that serves them both, Starcom MediaVest Group.

Launched two weeks ago
The Nielsen In-Store service launched two weeks ago on a limited national basis, with plans to roll out nationally in early 2008, said Dina Howell, general marketing manager-global operations for P&G, who co-presented with Mr. Quinn at Nielsen Co.'s Consumer 360 Conference in Hollywood, Fla., today.

Nielsen initially announced the service, which grew out of an industry effort spearheaded by Wal-Mart, P&G and SMG, in December. But the two big unanswered questions at the time were what metric the service would use to measure in-store media, and whether Wal-Mart would lift its data ban to give the effort better data.

Wal-Mart and P&G answered both questions before a room packed with sales and marketing executives who long have dealt with a retail realm rendered much less transparent thanks to lack of Wal-Mart data and lack of any generally recognized way to measure who, if anyone, was exposed to in-store media.

Relatively simple
The metric is a relatively simple one of eyeball count, albeit dealing with the particular complexities of retail. It will count traffic in stores that are in "compliance" with a media or promotion program and seek to count only unique impressions, defined as shoppers who actually walk down a particular aisle and have an opportunity to see the media or promotion in place.

Compliance is one of the trickier parts of the equation. Almost every in-store program falls short of marketers' plans because many stores or vendors don't put the program in place in every store it's scheduled for. Ms. Howell said Nielsen is looking at four possible ways to audit compliance for the program.

Ms. Howell said an initial test of the statistical system last year in 10 Wal-Mart stores, cross checked against in-person audits, had shown the audience estimates are about 76% accurate, which is better than expectations going in. Mr. Quinn said since that initial test, refinements to the system have increased confidence to 85%.

Pulled out in '01
Wal-Mart pulled out of its pact with ACNielsen and rivals Information Resources Inc. and NPD in 2001, saying at the time it wasn't getting as much out of data it received as it was giving up in the way of competitive intelligence by providing data to syndicators.

And Mr. Quinn said Wal-Mart would provide the sales data only for use by members of the Nielsen In-Store syndicate and only for use in that program, not broader applications. He characterized the concession as "small steps," and some in the research industry believe the giant retailer eventually will lift the ban completely.

Others among the more than 20 syndicate participants include Unilever, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Miller Brewing, Hewlett Packard, Kroger Co. and Meijer. "We will now have the right tools to make the right choices on how, when and where to spend our dollar to generate the greatest consumer impact," Ms. Howell said. "The store has been absent from [conventional media deals], but it's a critical part of the marketing mix, and this puts a bright light on it."

Increasingly important channel
Retail marketing has taken on greater importance as other forms of mass marketing have become more fragmented and less effective, she said. "Today, the click of the remote can cut the throat of even the best advertising in the world."

Getting to a generally accepted measurement of in-store audiences can also allow retailers to make substantial strides in the effectiveness of the store as a medium, Mr. Quinn said. "A lot of [analytical] tools are developed and can be applied," he said, "if only we know people have been exposed to the advertising."

Mr. Quinn said Nielsen In-Store shouldn't be viewed as a Wal-Mart initiative, and that it should benefit all retailers and manufacturers.
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