In the electronics department, every television is tuned to the same channel, showing a commercial for a cosmetics brand. At the end of the aisle is a sponsored stall promoting bags of popcorn. The music wafting through the air on the in-store radio is occasionally interrupted by advertising spots. Even at the checkout, a few final commercials pop up on screen to catch customers before they leave.

Anyone strolling around a branch of Walmart, as more than 200m Americans do each month, will see thousands of goodies on offer. Increasingly, its shoppers are being served up as products, too. Walmart, the world’s top retailer by sales, has discovered that there is serious money to be made in selling access to its customers. On May 16th the company reported that its booming advertising business had helped it deliver a 9.6% increase in operating income, year on year, for its quarter ending in April. As it carpets its physical and virtual stores in commercials, the company is taking a growing share of the ad market.

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