Microsoft is rolling out new ad tools for retailers like The Home Depot and Kohl's - and it marks its most brazen attack on Amazon's retail dominance to date
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Microsoft is rolling out new ad tools for retailers like The Home Depot and Kohl's - and it marks its most brazen attack on Amazon's retail dominance to date

satya nadella

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Satya Nadella in February 2019.

  • Microsoft is rolling out new tools that it says can help retailers make more money off their websites.
  • With PromoteIQ, the pitch is that retailers can incorporate advertising into their online storefronts and measure the campaigns' results.
  • A second, Bing for Commerce, is a search bar that retailers can add to their websites to target shoppers with customized product recommendations.
  • The tools represent Microsoft's latest attempt to compete with Amazon for e-commerce ad dollars.
  • Microsoft is trying to compete by appealing to small retailers that lack the resources to build their own advertising platforms.
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Microsoft is sharpening its assault on Amazon's advertising business with new tools that it says can help retailers like The Home Depot and Kohl's make more money off their websites.

The tech giant is set to introduce Microsoft PromoteIQ and Microsoft Bing for Commerce at the National Retail Federation (NRF) conference next week. Both claim to help retailers create personalized ads for vendors.

PromoteIQ lets retailers insert ads into their online storefronts, measure and track the campaigns, thereby boosting revenue from brands that want to promote their products on the site. Microsoft acquired PromoteIQ in August 2019 to become a bigger retail and e-commerce player.

Another tool, Bing for Commerce, is a search bar that retailers can add to their websites to make customized product recommendations to shoppers. It uses Microsoft Bing's search engine and Microsoft AI to power the results, and is available for preview to large retailers.

Microsoft is angling for brand and retailer e-commerce dollars

"Our $8 billion search advertising business - though small within the overall Microsoft context - is a pretty meaningful focus for us," said Rik van der Kooi, corporate VP of Microsoft Advertising. "As retail undergoes significant digital transformation, our intention is to leverage our technology to help our customers and partners, specifically in retail."

The tools represent Microsoft's latest attempt to go after brand and retailer e-commerce ad dollars since it rebranded its ad platform in April 2019. Last year, it rolled out Sponsored Products, an ad format that makes brand manufacturers' products more visible on retailers' websites. Amazon has a similar product.

The PromoteIQ platform is meant to helps retailers run digital marketing campaigns from brands on- and off-site. It also has a dashboard for brands to manage and measure their ad campaigns with retailers.

The Home Depot, for example, used PromoteIQ to grow vendors' digital marketing on homedepot.com. Since the program launched in early 2019, Home Depot's customer engagement grew by 35% and promoted product sales grew in the double digits over 2018, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is also trying to take on Amazon

Microsoft's retail-based technology marks its latest attempt to compete with Amazon, particularly in product advertising, which has been a huge growth area for Amazon.

But the limited scale of Bing puts Microsoft behind Google and Amazon, and retail giants Walmart, Target and eBay, who are building out advertising platforms of their own.

Microsoft is taking the tack of focusing on smaller retailers that lack the resources to build advertising platforms of their own, said Trevor George, CEO of digital marketing agency Blue Wheel Media. The idea is to give advertisers additional reach on these retailers' sites that complements Microsoft's existing platforms LinkedIn, Bing, MSN Outlook, and Skype.

Microsoft and Amazon also are going head-to-head in cloud computing, and a "significantly higher number of respondents" in a recent Goldman Sachs survey indicated they use Microsoft Azure and plan to in the next three years.

Microsoft has seized on brands' gripes that Amazon doesn't share enough data and concerns that it directly competes with them. In an earlier pitch deck obtained by Business Insider, Microsoft said that it "does not have a business interest in competing directly and your data is your data."

"Our intention is to make them [retailers] more powerful rather then displacing them," said van der Kooi. "It's not about who we're competing with but about how we enable retailers to compete with the largest retailers out there."

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