July 7, 2014, 2:27 PM

Five tips for unlocking the power of a digital retail circular

Digital circulars are a powerful tool to connect with consumers in real time. Here are some ways to get more out of going digital with the traditional retail circular.

For decades, circulars have been a way for retailers to showcase products to customers and drive traffic to the store. But the circular doesn’t have to exist only in print form. Brands can take advantage of digital technology to offer customers an alternative way to browse and shop. For the retailer, a digital circular can be a way to embrace omnichannel retailing and to deepen the connection with shoppers.

Stop being embarrassed by the pre-print or circular. They still work.

If you shake a Sunday newspaper, the results will be telling. They may whisper it, but any retailer will admit that pre-prints delivered via newspaper insert can still drive sales.

The digital format works, too. While the link between online consumption and offline behavior isn’t definitive for every category, performance metrics show that people engage with a circular online.  By communicating the full story of a retailer’s featured content, a digital circular can drive that trip to the store or web site. The fact that people actually engage with it online provides a more meaningful connection between customer and brand, which is a bonus over the long term. 

Stop searching for one solution.

While it might be ideal to have a single solution and a controlled environment in today’s multi-platform universe, it’s not happening. We live in a world of disaggregated content and fragmented media consumption, and we need to be more flexible in our approach to consumers. Both retailers and the brands they carry must adapt to customer habits, which means that the strongest and most enduring connections are made through multiple channels.

It is not just about you! 

You already have your own web site, a mobile site, an app, and possibly your own digital circular, so you’re all set, right?  Wrong. The harsh reality is that owned digital assets are not enough.

To sustain the sales volume needed in a scaled, omnichannel environment, multiple distribution points are needed. Shopper loyalty and exclusivity have waned in recent years; virtually any customer will stray if offered better overall experience. And given the explosion in social networking, gaming, and other content developed for mobile consumption, most retailers will do well to add content opportunities beyond their own platforms.

Look to the metrics.

Depending upon the design of your digital circular dashboard, you may be able to discern more about how customers engage than ever before. For example, is a bigger book really better?  Does a broadsheet generate as much interest as a tab?  What products or product categories garner the greatest time spent? 

These are all questions retailers should be asking to identify the most effective ways to engage customers. Analyze the metrics to find the platforms that are most beneficial to your brand. The data is there, and it’s helpful to use it to fine-tune the management of your circular budget. An analysis of shopper engagement levels on the digital channel is a vital tool for assessing and adjusting promotional offers.

Sell the flexibility that digital has to offer.

Some retail organizations are stuck in a print-and-paper cycle, where the printed vehicle fuels the marketing engine and often even the supply chain. They may struggle to mobilize their teams to capitalize on the compelling advantages of digital—speed to market and potentially millions of dollars saved in the cost of printing. The key is to engage the merchant by selling digital’s upside. Working together, you can develop and distribute digital content with greater frequency and at a lower cost than with print.

Remember, it’s not a zero-sum game. Retailers will still generate sales from print circulars, but with the use of digital channels, the campaign can be taken to new heights as deeper connections with customers are made.

Retailers going digital can better connect with customers and drive traffic using an omnichannel retailing approach. Research shows that shoppers want to engage with the circular online, so your next “hot offer” may only be the starting point.

About the Author:

Pat Dermody brings more than 20 years of marketing, retail and leadership experience to her role as president of Retale. As a veteran of both agency and client-side marketing, she is skilled in offline and online channels, brand strategy and retail marketing, and mass and targeted interactions.

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