Big Box retailers placed just under a quarter of their desktop impressions through demand and supply-side platforms, exchanges and agency trading during Q1–Q3 2014, compared with an average of 37% for 960 of the most active advertisers. Big Box brands allocated an even smaller percentage of their impressions to programmatic on tablet (21%) and mobile platforms (18%) in the first three quarters of 2014, as outlined in L2’s Insight report Big Box: Programmatic Advertising.

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“This is an ideal technology for Big Box retailers to leverage, as they know a great deal about their consumers,” says Gabe Gottlieb, co-founder and CEO of Adomic, which provided data for the L2 report. “I was surprised to see that Big Box wasn’t a leading adopter of programmatic, but I’m sure that their usage will grow over the next year.”

Target tops the list in programmatic among Big Box retailers, with over two-thirds of its desktop impressions placed through programmatic channels during the first three quarters of 2014—almost twice that of next-in-line Home Depot. (During this period, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy’s were the most active digital marketers overall, in terms of desktop digital ad impressions as well as number of creatives.)

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In the mobile arena, Home Depot recorded the highest level of programmatic buying for smartphones. Macy’s and Best Buy relied on programmatic for mobile more so than in desktop, Macy’s on tablets and Best Buy on mobile phones.

Big Box Index brands fragment their inventory, with small placements across more than 5,000 desktop, mobile and tablet sites combined. On desktop, publishers like legacy.com and answers.com host a great number of top brands, but it’s the major high-traffic sites—Yahoo, ESPN and AOL—that log the greatest number of views for these brands. Key sites like YouTube, Yahoo and AOL also account for the greatest share of impressions on mobile and tablet.

Programmatic advertising is expected to continue its high-growth trajectory in 2015, with spend projected to increase 16% for desktop and a staggering 88% for mobile and tablet combined. Data from Q4 2014 points to the rising investment in mobile, with Target registering significant gains in relative share of impressions on both mobile and tablet. Other top players that gained ground included Best Buy, Macy’s and Walmart.

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Walmart will be one to watch in 2015 as the retailer harnesses its digital advertising experience, rich consumer data and supplier relationships via the Walmart Exchange, an initiative announced last year. The platform will facilitate placement of both search and display ads, enabling Walmart to deliver relevant messages to consumers cross-platform and eventually draw connections between advertising and in-store sales.

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