October 15, 2020

7 min read

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If retailers are eliminating physical flyers, they are going to need to tighten the often adversarial relationship between their merchandising and operations teams.

When organizations are problem solving, they need to have alignment across all departments. There’s no silver bullet that any one team can offer that fixes everything.  Operationalizing an effective solution—making it scalable, communicating it to customers, investing in training for frontline staff—requires cross-functional cooperation to ensure the success of the business, the brand, and the consumer.

Take the case of the print flyer—a retail communication mainstay and marketing workhorse for decades, but now being taken online, with COVID-19 speeding up the migration.

This shift from print to digital is about more than simply switching from one medium to another. It’s about changing consumer ritual and behaviour. It’s about supporting a different in-store experience. And it’s about removing organizational silos that can hinder that experience. For decades, Merchandising and Operations have worked at odds with one another. Merchandising increases sales by developing programs, sourcing product, and pushing inventory to stores. Operations allocates the labour to execute and maintain the programs, and to interact with and sell to consumers. Yet labour is typically the first casualty when cuts are made to improve profitability. Both teams work together, but their P&Ls are diametrically opposed.

In our labour-sensitive, cost-conscious, post-COVID world, the evolution of the flyer is one more factor ratcheting up the pressure on these two teams. The two must now work extra closely to accommodate and adapt to changing consumer habits—not just related to flyers, but to shopping and discovery as a whole. Consider that 85 percent of purchase decisions are made at the shelf, and that after 2.3 negative experiences, the average consumer looks elsewhere.

The chances of a negative at-shelf experience are increased by the absence of a print flyer. The fact is, the physical flyer performs an important role, both for retailers and for consumers. It establishes retailers’ brand positioning. It drives price perception. It promotes innovation at both the brand and product level. It also encourages discovery. For many, it is at the core of the grocery shopping experience.

Removing the print flyer changes the shopping experience, and makes it critical that in-store teams work together to drive engagement and sales.

With those goals in mind, here are three important considerations for delivering an optimal customer experience.

According to BrandSpark, 91 percent of Canadians still read a grocery flyer each month.



While many more of us are using digital flyer apps, reward programs, and payment platforms, many are not. A leading digital flyer app has publicly stated that downloads across the U.S. and Canada are at just over 16 million users. While sizeable, there still remains the majority of the population that has not digitally enabled its flyer habits. As a retailer, you can’t afford to miss out on that. So leverage the technology and bring the digital flyer in-store so that anyone can use it.   

  • Create in-store price comparisons and display them on screens throughout the store. One of the big reasons consumers use flyers is to comparison shop: Imagine all weekly specials lined up alongside competitors’ counterparts in a clear, digestible manner. You as a retailer are seen to offer transparency and add value, while customers are confident they’re getting the best deal.
  • Give consumers more options to access digital tools in-store that improve productivity while reducing points of physical interaction—enablers like smart cart technology and mobile scan checkout. Make the routine and now riskier aspects of shopping—waiting in line and payment for products—as seamless as possible.


COVID-19 has made shopping a look-but-don’t-touch experience—get in, get out, get home. Retailers need to find ways to turn the store back into something more enjoyable and exploratory for consumers:

  • Use QR codes to communicate product information and recipes. A shopper wanting to learn about a product—its ingredients, nutritional value, what to cook with it—simply scans the code on the shelf. There’s no need to pick anything up, plus there’s plenty of incentive to buy complementary ingredients.
  • Take discovery a big step further with beacon technology, enabling your shelves to reach out to shoppers and tempt them with special offers and promotions—a capability with incredible potential in a grocery setting.


The underlying benefit of enhanced digital engagement is richer shopper data, and a deeper understanding of shopper needs, creating opportunities to drive better engagement and a stronger connection to the brand.

  • Create 1:1 digital flyers promoting individuals’ top-volume items. Each issue is fully personalized, containing a curated list of products and promotions based on that particular customer’s buying preferences.
  • Make the 1:1 flyers shareable, helping to set up loyal customers as brand ambassadors. Their posts not only help influence others in their social networks, but also provide valuable insight into which content of yours drives the greatest response.
  • Use the flyers to go beyond the offers and deliver value-added messages of support and community contribution (“We’re here to help you live your easiest and best life possible”). Make your retail experience one that customers want to share.


The technology is available—but now the challenges of COVID and the need for increased in-store efficiency have given it greater purpose. With the dramatic changes experienced by retailers in recent months, they need to leverage consumers’ digital momentum and reinvest flyer dollars into building a store experience that engages shoppers and drives discovery. The time is now for Merchandising and Operations to roll up their sleeves and put their heads together.