MONTREAL — Home renovation chain Rona says its efforts to attract tech-savvy shoppers got a recent boost when the retailer temporarily replaced its printed flyer with an expanded digital offering.
The Montreal-based company says sales doubled at its stores across Canada despite scrapping the printed flyer during a nationwide test one week in February.
Marketing vice-president Claire Bara said the boost far exceeded expectations and silenced internal skeptics of Rona's three-year strategy to spend more on digital marketing.
"I think for us that was a turning moment because that test confirmed that we have been doing the right shift," she said in an interview.
The 15-page digital flyer, created at half the cost in partnership with digital flyer platform Flipp, was far larger than its typical printed versions. Like traditional printed flyers, the digital version promoted products on sale in-store but allowed readers to click to find more details, create lists and watch how-to videos.
Rona also got insight into consumer choices because it could track what they viewed, including a video on installing toilets that proved to be popular.
With little lead time for publication, digital flyers including ones targeted to certain shoppers can be easily altered to account for sudden weather changes that could drive traffic for specific products — like shovels after a major snowstorm, for example.
The Rona flyer was distributed online to customers in the company's databases and those of Air Miles. It was also available on the Flipp app and some websites, including those linked to Canadian newspapers.
Bara said the digital flyer experiment's success was confirmed by the number of Air Miles loyalty program coupons that were redeemed in-store. Rona's Reno-Depot big box stores didn't participate.
Jean Coutu, one of Canada's largest pharmacy networks, said it's also seeing success with its digital efforts. The company said cosmetic sales got a five per cent lift after it twice published a 20-page digital flyer this year enhanced with videos on the Montreal La Presse Plus tablet and website.
Chief executive Francois Coutu said the move is part of the company's efforts to attract younger female shoppers.
"We have to fight the idea that we are the pharmacy of my mother," he told reporters after its annual meeting.
The digital flyers are part of a larger push by both retailers to offer services that consumers are increasingly demanding.
"As a marketing manager it's very simple: I need to be where the consumers are and Canadian consumers are spending more and more time online," said Bara.
Although digital flyers were launched more than a decade ago, retailers have accelerated their efforts since companies like Flipp enhanced distribution through apps and websites, said Flipp managing director Seth Stover.
The Toronto-based company says about 15 million North Americans have downloaded the Flipp app since its launch in November 2013, giving easy access to digital flyers for retailers including Rona, Walmart, Canadian Tire and Home Depot.
A recent Nielsen study found that 79 per cent of primary household shoppers browse digital and print flyers weekly. Print still dominates, but use of digital advertising is growing annually among all demographics, but especially millennials.
One in four Canadians between the ages of 18 and 54 read more digital flyers now than they did last year, the study found. Some 16 per cent of Canadian household shoppers are almost exclusively using digital flyers, but that number is 26 per cent among millennials.
That's doesn't mean the 13 million printed flyers that are delivered weekly to Canadian households will disappear any time soon.
"Canadian customers today are living in the two worlds — the traditional world and the online world — so I need to keep a balance," Bara said.
Stover said there will always be consumers who will use print, but he sees a majority of consumers shifting exclusively to digital flyers within the next three years.
BrandSpark International, which conducted a study for commercial printer Transcontinental, found resiliency in printed flyers.
Vice-president Mark Baltazar predicts a dramatic shift will only take hold when most of the public becomes comfortable with digital platforms, and online shopping continues to grow.
Despite a potential long-term threat, Transcontinental said its retail flyer volume is stable as it continues to sign long-term contracts.
"Printed flyers are a mass marketing tool that work. It drives traffic to the store," said Jennifer McCaughey, vice-president of communications for Transcontinental.
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press
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