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A Canadian company turns on the virtual flyer

The flyer isn't dead.

What do you get when some ex-Microsoft engineers combine mapping technology with a retailer’s favourite weapon, the flyer? A compelling digital promotional play that’s attracted a following among North American grocers.

Wishabi, the Toronto technology company behind the idea, is already working with Walmart, Target, Overwaitea, Giant Tiger and Calgary Co-op in Canada. Sixteen months ago it expanded to the U.S., where it has picked up 22 retail clients, including Delhaize Group’s Food Lion chain as well as Target.

READ: Flyers to go with GroceryGo app

Online flyers aren’t new. But Wishabi has something different: interactivity and personalization, plus every marketer’s favourite metric, measurement.

Also key is the company’s distribution channel. Digital flyers usually only go to a retail chain’s e-mail list. Wishabi, though, has its own circular site, called Flyertown, and gets flyers into consumer hands in other ways, including mobile apps, e-mail lists and by working with digital media networks such as MSN and PostMedia.

“We’re giving consumers all their flyers together in one spot,” says Wishabi’s CEO, Wehuns Tan. “We don’t want consumers to change their behaviour, but to use the same behaviour in a digital form.”

Distribution was the main reason Calgary Co-op decided to work with Wishabi. “They take our digital flyer and extend the reach of it beyond those who are directly seeking it from our sites,” says Lisa Gorchinski, Calgary Co-op’s marketing director.

To make sure people spend time with flyers, Wishab gives its circulars a twist.

First, it uses a storyboard format with interactive features such as rapid browsing and easy reading compared to traditional, grid-style flyers. As a result, says Tan, consumers spend up to 20 times longer on his digital flyer platform versus competitors.

Wishabi’s technology lets retailers put recipes, videos and nutritional facts in flyers, plus highlight discounts and create shopping lists. The ability to customize the digital flyer will only drive its success, says Marc Inkol, president of Explorer Group in Mississauga, Ont.

READ: The great Canadian flyer

Wishabi also recently launched Flipp, a free iPhone and iPad app that lets people personalize flyers on their phones and search for specific items.

But perhaps the major reason for retailers to adopt digital flyers is consumer-data capture. Detailed “heat maps” can show how consumers are using the flyer and what products are catching their eye. That can help retailers make more effective merchandising and marketing decisions.

“Having the information on what consumers are looking at, and clicking through, is what’s going to give you a better idea on how to stock your shelves and where to get more aggressive in pricing,” says Marc Saltzman, a technology journalist.

Tan cites one recent example: A retailer that Wishabi works with was certain that a particular poultry item in its flyer would generate high engagement with consumers, and thereby draw more people to its stores. But based on the digital flyer usage information, a cereal item in the flyer actually ended up having the highest correlation to in-store sales.

No wonder retailers are now using digital data to make decisions about what goes in flyers. To increase click-throughs, Calgary Co-op is looking at changing key items on the front page of its flyer across different areas of Calgary, says Gorchinski.

Cost is also a potential plus for digital flyers. Wishabi’s business model is “pay per engagement” based on six seconds of a flyer being opened and the mouse actively moving. “I’m only paying for eyeballs,” says Gorchinski. Tan says the cost of digital flyers is about one-tenth of print flyers.

READ: Flyers, an app for that?

Some U.S. experts believe that the print flyer will disappear within three to seven years. Tan is thinking further ahead. He foresees Canadian retailers creating shopping platforms that allow consumers to make a shopping list and then ship products straight from the flyer to their homes.

“The digital flyer will make shopping easy, relevant and integrated, regardless of where the shopper is,” Tan insists.

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