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Even in a pandemic, the printed flyer endures

While grocers have made changes to their distribution strategy in recent months, a study finds that weekly readership remains high

The epitaph for the weekly print grocery flyer has been written countless times in recent years, particularly as digital has rewritten the rules for so many legacy industries. Yet new research suggests they are still read by a large portion of Canadian shoppers.

In a survey of more than 4,500 Canadians conducted by newspaper publisher Postmedia in June, 85% of respondents indicated they read printed flyers at least some of the time, with more than half of respondents (52%) saying they always read printed flyers.

But the pandemic has also caused at least one of the country’s major grocery chains to reassess its print flyer strategy. Earlier this year, Canada’s largest grocer, Loblaw Companies Ltd., stopped distributing flyers in its stores, at least partly in response to fears that they could cause the transmission of COVID-19.

In April, the company went a step further, announcing that it was permanently halting paper flyers for several of its banners—including No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore and Maxi. In a statement to Canadian Grocer, Loblaw explained that consumers have “dramatically shifted” their planning and shopping behaviour, and the move was an attempt to “meet them where they are and where they shop—online.”

Loblaw said it would continue to prominently display its promotions in-store and through the PC Optimum app. “We believe this is a more consistent and accurate way to communicate value and choice to our customers,” it said. “It’s been a change for some of our customers, but generally the feedback has been positive.”

That announcement, accompanied by Canadian Tire and Walmart Canada making what turned out to be temporary changes to their distribution, led to some speculation that the coronavirus might have permanently caused grocers to reassess their flyer strategy.

However, 83% of respondents in the Postmedia survey said there had been no change in their flyer habits in recent months, while 12% indicated that there had only been a temporary change.

While digital is touted as a more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient method of flyer distribution, and digital flyer companies tout their ability to deliver “personalized experiences” capable of driving incremental sales, the Postmedia study found they don’t have the same traction among consumers.

Just 9% of respondents said they only looked at digital flyers, and more than one-quarter (27%) said they never looked at digital flyers. “Advertisers can be reassured consumers read and want the printed flyer, with minimal change in behaviour over the past few months,” the Postmedia study concluded.

A combined 47% of respondents said either a daily (22%) or weekly (25%) newspaper was their primary source of flyers, while 35% cited a flyer bundle. Just 19% of respondents said they do not receive flyers, which speaks to their relative ubiquity.



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