Retail’s Circular Comeback


“85% of households are still using printed circulars”


What’s the Sitch?

Over the past decade, the marketing mix for most retailers has shifted heavily toward digital. While some would cite precise targeting capabilities and cost efficiencies for the change, trend reports declaring that print was becoming obsolete also had influence. Retailers didn’t want to experience the same demise the print industry was reportedly heading toward.

What We Know.

In December 2017, Nielsen reported that 85% of households are still using printed circulars – only a 3% decline since 2014. Not quite living up to the doom-and-gloom reports of the past two-ish decades, huh? Not to mention, 79% of shoppers are also picking up in-store circulars while shopping.

And it’s not specific demographics skewing this data.

Shoppers of all income levels are heat-seeking saving missiles. Price-sensitive and highly researched, consumers rarely step foot in a store before consulting circulars as a part of their 8-touchpoint pre-store research, which may also include email, store apps, money-saving apps, even voice technology–so they can make informed purchases.

In reality, we know budgets can rarely support fully optimizing each and every touchpoint. The challenge we all face is reaching consumers via the right vehicle at the right time with the right message. It is key for retailers to find the optimal mix of these touchpoints to hit and stand out while doing it.

Starting with the Basics.

It should go without saying, given that knowledge bomb from Nielsen, but don’t cut your print circular from your marketing strategy. Continue to test product mix, layouts, number of pages, order of product categories, optimize distribution and so on. This isn’t the field of dreams. Just because you’re building it doesn’t mean they will come –you must work to constantly improve effectiveness.  

Next, make certain your circular is available digitally, anywhere and everywhere. Circular ads should not just be available on your website and app, but distributed across third-party platforms such as Flipp. Take advantage of the flexibility of digital distribution and execute what may not be realistic (or affordable) to do in print – add incremental pages to promote products or specials only available in specific stores, or add last-minute messaging, like availability of space heaters and electric blankets in southern regions after they receive one inch of snow - something you never could have predicted when you sent your ad to the printer 10 weeks ago. Digital ads also provide a great vehicle for initial A/B tests on design, product category pagination, and other components, as in-depth analytics data is available. Successes from testing that can be translated to your print circular for widespread distribution.

Pro tip: “Leak” your next ad a few days early on your website as a preview to help customers start planning their next trip sooner.

“Digital ads provide a great vehicle for initial A/B tests on design, product category pagination, and other components...”

Further encourage customer interaction by offering exclusive digital coupons, available to be clipped from your online ad only. Monetize these placements as a part of a larger vendor co-op program by offering targeting capabilities based on loyalty card data and/or other demographic and geographic variables.

Personalizing ads is not limited to digital versions of your circular. Consumers don’t want their mailbox flooded with materials irrelevant to their everyday life. What does this mean? If you want to keep customers excited about what's coming to their 'box (mailbox, that is), you have to get comfortable thinking outside yours. Start with leveraging loyalty data to create a personalized ad filled with frequently purchased items and category features so the new mom sees deals for Pampers and Similac while your millennial shopper can compare pricing on organic kale, wine and the next greatest avocado toast topping.

Finally, consumers’ price sensitivity should be another strong focus for retailers. Partnering with money-saving apps such as Ibotta, Shopkick, and RetailMeNot can help customers save above and beyond your sale and coupon programs, with minimal risk.

A New Way of Thinking.

With new advancements in digital advertising, retailers will need to find ways to get printed circulars to work cohesively with digital. For instance, a printed grocery store circular could include a unique code to enter within the store app or website giving each consumer personalized recipes based on shopping history. If they like the recipe, a simple click adds items to a list for their subsequent shopping trip. Another approach along the same lines would to be to work with voice assistant technology companies so adding recipe ingredients could be as easy as “Alexa, add Kroger Bruschetta Chicken Pasta Recipe to my shopping list.”

“...a little transparent price-matching goes a long way to building brand confidence and loyalty”

In fact, voice assistants bring up a secondary but equally important consideration for today’s shopper: convenience. With customers seeking out the best prices each week, why not help them out by comparing prices for them? Your printed circular could contain a scannable code for each item listed. Once the customer scans the code in the circular, it will take them to a landing page where it will compare competitor pricing for the specific item. The page could also feature an “add to price match” button that would create a new list each week of items that were topped by competitors. At check-out, customers can show the cashier their barcode, which can be scanned to add the remaining price-match discount. Ideally, your company’s price will always be the lowest, but that's not likely to be the case every time. Even still, a little transparent price-matching goes a long way to building brand confidence and loyalty; a sure-fire method for winning over customers and keeping them coming back.  

What this Means for Your Brand.

It’s critical to continuously innovate how you are integrating all touchpoints to keep your brand top-of-mind and expand your base of loyal customers.

With the knowledge that print advertising is a preferred method by many consumers, and therefore a critical component to keep in your marketing mix, the best way to efficiently manage your budget is utilizing the flexibility of digital channels and analytics data available to enhance traditional touchpoints for maximum return.


     Nicole Downs, Account Executive

    Nicole Downs, Account Executive

Jessica Young