May 18, 2018

RIP Print?

Not quite – Numerator promotional data shows print promotions are still alive and well.

Much ado has been made about the death of print media - magazines, newspapers, and even books. Print promotions have not been immune to that speculation either. Indeed, with the many digital options available today, it would seem intuitive that retailers would be moving more in that direction. To confirm if this is really the trend, we compared our promotional data from 2017 with 2016 data.  We discovered that, even with readily available digital alternatives, U.S. retailers are still running more traditional print ads.

Our findings include:

  • Of the top 76 US retailers, the majority either maintained or increased their number of circulars in 2017 as compared with 2016
  • Of the 13 retailers with decreased circular counts, 10 continue to release flyers on at least a weekly cadence
  • Overall U.S. retailers ran more traditional feature ads in 2017 than in 2016

Change in Circular Frequency

Among the top 76 US retailers, the retailers with the largest percent increases and decreases in print circular frequency from 2016 to 2017

Change in Feature Ads

Source: Numerator Promotions Data


For the majority of the 76 U.S. retailers that we looked at, print circular frequency remained mostly the same. Where there were changes, we saw larger increases in frequency than there were decreases.  So, it appears that retailers put out more circular ads in 2017 than in 2016 – even if only by a marginal amount.  I guess print is here to stay, after all…

…For now, at least. As eCommerce continues to grow, retailers will likely need to rethink their print strategies.  Grocery, in particular, is still predominantly brick-and-mortar for the time being, but as grocery shopping continues its shift online it’s difficult to imagine that circular ads would not follow suit.  It’s counterintuitive to search a print ad for deals and coupons only to have to enter a coupon code and make an order online afterwards. Retailers need to advertise where consumers shop - online ads will provide a much more seamless online customer experience.  We’re already seeing this beginning to happen, in fact – as of May 1, Whole Foods has officially stopped running circular ads altogether, in favor of digital ads and in-store bulletins.

Of course, there is never a one-size-fits-all solution for anything and there will certainly always be circumstances where print ads will make the most sense.  But I think ultimately, it’s probably a matter of when, not if, we will see a decline in print circulars in the future.