If you’re thinking about getting rid of print circulars, make sure you’ve done your due diligence. A little research and planning to go a long way.

Some customers don’t want to hold a flyer while they shop. They prefer using an app on their phones, checking a website, or relying on in-store kiosks.

So, does that mean your Sunday circular should go dark? It depends.

Every retailer is different, with different budgets and different customers. And how those customers feel about circulars is dependent on geographic region, generational preferences, and even socioeconomic factors.

Still, there’s no doubt that digital has established a significant footprint in grocery and retail spaces.

The decision to “go dark” with print circulars needs to be based on a comprehensive understanding of your business, your industry and your customers.”

Digital Is Here to Stay

The pandemic has forever changed how people shop.

Between 2019 and 2021, online grocery sales nearly tripled from sheer necessity, forcing companies to offer same-day home delivery, curbside delivery, and buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) services. By 2026, online grocery sales is expected to account for more than 20% of the overall U.S. grocery retail market.

The need for print circulars flatlined during those years, and we can see how it continues to play out already with some of the biggest brands: Both CVS and Walgreens have suspended their in-store Sunday circulars. One of our customers recently switched from circulars to a more targeted direct mail campaign with a lower spend, while another is planning to go “dark” in the fall of 2022.

On paper, it’s a gamble. (No pun intended.)

But it’s important to consider the market indicators and trends that may have contributed to the decision. Dollar stores, for instance, “are popping up everywhere and their demographics are expanding. Consumers primarily shop there because it’s less expensive, but more and more young (I.e. heavily online) consumers are frequenting those stores.

On the other hand, Canadian grocery retailer Loblaw’s experimented with canceling its printed flyers in 2020, only to quietly backtrack once data showed a 2% decline in share of visit.

The key principle for grocers and retailers to remember is this: The decision to “go dark” with print circulars needs to be based on a comprehensive understanding of your business, your industry and your customers.

How to Determine if Digital Is Better for Your Business

When it comes to deciding between print and digital, all grocers need to think like enterprise-level retailers.

Know Your Demographics

Customer behavior is dependent on many variables, one of them demographics. In fact, when grocers tap into those demographics to make marketing decisions, they can set themselves up for even more sales.

For example, Gen Z and millennials shop online at a higher rate than older generations. Add to that the rising cost of eating out, and younger generations are increasingly interested in buying and cooking their meals.

That’s a prime opportunity for grocers.

When you also consider that younger shoppers are more likely to use their mobile phones to shop, then digital circulars, app coupons and discounts, and other online technologies offer a perfect chance to meet those customers where they’re most comfortable.

So, if this is your customer base, is abandoning printed circulars an open-and-shut case?

Not yet.

This is when you take a page from the digital marketer’s playbook and test out options.

Conduct A/B Tests and Other Tactics

One way to find out whether your customers truly value those Sunday circulars is to conduct what’s called “A/B testing.” This tactic involves applying different strategies (usually two separate strategies) to determine which is most effective.

For example, try offering online circulars along with printed circulars within a set geographical zone, and measure results (don’t forget to benchmark your existing numbers first). We recommend getting specific with your data gathering to include tracking:

  • Which tactic results in the most customer visits and which type (in-store, online, curbside pickup, BOPIS).
  • How each tactic impacts customer visit frequency.
  • How each tactic impacts customer spend.
  • How each tactic impacts items purchased.

Basically, any data point that can help determine the best course of action is essential to not just maintaining sales, but increasing them.

Other approaches involve asking customers directly, using tools like POP surveys and old-school consumer research with a digital approach. Use any communication channel you can to glean information about customer preferences.

Here are some important questions to ask:

Are shoppers using circulars for specific products?

The Path to Purchase Institute found that shoppers are still using the printed store flyer for very specific items, such as dairy, fresh produce, deli meats and cheese, canned goods, and pasta. Grocery retail giant Meijer has made their “most wanted” easy to find, implementing a hybrid solution where they ship out customized weekly coupons based on shopping profiles collected through their mPerks app.

What decisions are consumers making before they come to the store?

With prices increasing due to inflation, consumers are making more product and store selections before ever leaving their home. They’re shopping more strategically and less frequently.

That means grocers have a very finite window of influence.

Grocers need to find out what questions consumers are trying to answer before they go to the store and which media is best to provide those answers. Even better, how can grocers anticipate those questions … and deliver information just in time to influence customers’ choices?

If you do decide to stop printing circulars, be strategic and have a plan in place.

“Go Dark” Strategically

What are the best alternatives to circulars?

Again, it depends on your customers, where they live, and the range of socioeconomic environments.

At the very least, invest in a web presence that offers an array of options, including an online circular, clippable coupons, and even some sort of online shopping service.

An app like mPerks is a great option as well. Customers using mPerks can see what’s on sale this week; clip coupons; make a shopping list; order ahead for curbside pickup; and even use “shop and scan” capabilities, which is a self-serve mPOS that makes shopping trips fast and easy.

Regardless of your decision, you’ll need to research and plan your strategy before doing away with circulars altogether. The more prepared you are, the better your chances for success.

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