Why printed flyers still work

Death knell for circulars sounded years ago, yet they remain key to the marketing mix

Rebecca Harris December 01, 2015

Twenty years ago, Sandy Salmon, director of advertising at Staples Canada, heard retail experts predict the end of printed flyers… in 20 years. “I’m still working at Staples and I’m still doing a lot of flyers,” said Salmon.

“Believe it or not, people still like that tangible piece of paper. Our number-one complaint through customer service is, ‘I didn’t get my printed flyer…’ It’s moving towards digital, but not as fast as any of us in the business would have thought.”

In fact, most Canadians still like to read circulars the old-fashioned way. According to the 2015 BrandSpark Canadian Shopper Study, 74% of grocery shoppers said they preferred print flyers and 26% said they preferred digital flyers, an increase of 6% from 2014.

The survey found 91% of Canadians read printed flyers from grocery stores at least monthly, 81% read flyers from mass merchants such as Walmart and Costco, and 76% read flyers from drug stores.

“Digital continues to grow, but people aren’t really dropping off of print,” said Philip Scrutton, director of consumer insights at BrandSpark International. “It’s a very convenient channel for shoppers because it’s so easy to open up the flyer and you can read it quickly.”

For many consumers, reading printed flyers has long been a habit. Catherine Walsh, director of media and insights at Best Buy Canada, said Canadians are accustomed to the regular weekly rhythm of flyer delivery. “It’s been part of our routine for years,” she said.

But retailers, of course, have added digital flyers to the mix. Best Buy delivers weekly flyers to the majority of Canadian households, and on the same day, it publishes a digital version on BestBuy.ca. “We have found that the print and digital versions of our flyer work in strong synergy together,” said Walsh. “The customer journey, as we all know, is no longer linear, and has many touchpoints.”

For Staples Canada, flyers in both formats remain an important sales driver. “When we have a flyer, sales are up. When there’s no flyer, sales are down,” said Salmon. “[Retailers] have trained consumers to look for flyers to get deals. So they are definitely traffic builders.”

Printed flyer readership does skew toward an older demographic, but that doesn’t mean young people are eschewing the printed page altogether. The BrandSpark survey found 51% of baby boomers checked a paper flyer in advance of their last shopping trip, compared to 44% of Gen X and 32% of millennials. Twenty-six percent of boomers checked an online flyer, compared to 31% of Gen X and 30% of millennials.

“While we’ve seen increasing use of digital, we’re still seeing the millennials use print,” said Robert Levy, president and CEO of BrandSpark. “Just because they’re young people and they’re digital natives doesn’t mean that they’re not using print flyers. Even for them, sometimes it’s actually easier to do [than accessing] digital flyers or apps.”