Digital touchpoints yet to replace print for retail advertising

By Gary Meo

Nielsen Scarborough

New York, USA


If your home is like most U.S. households, you probably received a flood of advertising mail, catalogues, and flyers over the holidays. Whether it’s solo mail, shared mail, pre-printed newspaper inserts, or the vast array of retail catalogues, print continues to be an effective marketing channel for retailers.

Given the rapid rise of digital advertising, why is it that printed advertisements continue to fill our newspapers and mailboxes — not only during the holiday season but all through the year?

Because retailers know printed advertising drives sales.

Printed advertisements continue to entice readers even as digital advertising opportunities increase.
Printed advertisements continue to entice readers even as digital advertising opportunities increase.

According to a 2017 Nielsen Homescan study, about 80% of U.S. households still use circulars and other traditional, printed sources for product information. Print is the primary medium used by consumers for information about stores, sales, and specials. And, when you trend the data over the past three years, the use of printed circulars has declined only slightly — down 3 to 4 percentage points since 2014.

Mailed advertisements and catalogues have also shown remarkable resilience over the past three years. According to Nielsen Scarborough’s USA+ database, about 15% of U.S. adults have made three or more purchases from a mail order catalogue in the past 12 months. That percentage is virtually unchanged since 2014.

And, about 14% of U.S. adults have made three or more purchases from mailed advertisements (excluding catalogues) in the past 12 months. That percentage has also remained flat since 2014.

Meanwhile, retailers’ digital marketing touchpoints (e.g., Web sites, mobile apps, social media, e-mails, text messages, and blogs) continue to grow substantially.

According to the Nielsen Homescan study, store Web sites and e-mails are the most used digital channels, reaching 77% and 75% of U.S. households, respectively. In addition, about half of U.S. households use store apps, social media, and money-saving apps — and these channels have grown at double-digit rates between 2014 and 2017. Not surprisingly, Millennials have the highest usage rates across all digital touchpoints.

So, even as digital channels for retail marketing continue to grow, print advertising is still very effective and doesn’t show signs of going away any time soon. In the Nielsen Homescan study, almost half of U.S. households said they use at least eight different sources — across print and digital — for information about products and sales.

What does this all mean for retail marketers and news media companies?

First, it means printed advertising is alive and well, and it is the leading source of product information for consumers. Retailers who shift a disproportionate amount of their ad spend from print to digital do so at their peril.

Secondly, it means that, to be successful, retailers must utilise multiple touchpoints across print and digital channels to reach their best shoppers and attract new customers. They should continue to utilise traditional print advertising since print will continue to be shoppers’ main source of product and sales information, at least for now.

And, as more consumers engage with digital channels for information, retailers should maximise and enhance those channels as well.

The good news for most U.S. newspaper companies is they provide both the traditional and digital channels that retailers need to reach their customers — through the printed newspaper, pre-printed inserts, targeted or total market coverage programmes, custom publishing, and an array of digital marketing services.

Newspaper companies can make the connection between marketer and market, across multiple touchpoints. That’s a level of service that few local media competitors can match.

About Gary Meo

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