From Print to Digital, Slowly: The Evolution of the Circular

It happens thousands of times per day in America: a shopper walks into the supermarket, leafs through the store circular to find discounts on products, and, fingers smudged by newsprint, sets off to shop, often with the circular in hand. But while the paper circular – whether delivered by mail, as a newspaper insert or viewed in the store – still reigns as the most popular way for shoppers to find sale items and product information, it is evolving in kind with consumers’ desire to seek deals across media.

To track the evolution of the store circular, one need only follow the smudge. A Nielsen survey of 11,000 shoppers found that roughly 60 percent of consumers look at printed circulars at least once a week, but today’s fingerprints are increasingly likely to be found on tablet and smartphone screens as opposed to the pages of paper circulars.

Retailer e-mails are just as likely to reach consumers as the paper circular, and millenials in particular are increasingly likely to view a store’s website on a PC, and are more likely than other demographics to use a social media website or smartphone as an alternative to the paper circular.

While a full 70 percent of shoppers have expressed a desire to have their circulars delivered digitally in some form – via e-mail or over the web – in total only 18 percent of shoppers have ever used a smartphone to determine what’s available in-store and only 33 percent have accessed that information on a tablet device. In contrast, 90 percent of shoppers still want paper delivery. Thus, the transition to digital circulars is expected to be gradual, a gentle migration that will accelerate in proportion with both shoppers’ and retailers’ level of comfort with electronic platforms.