This massive barrage of undifferentiated discounts served its purpose with the pre-internet generation, but today a good and growing share of digital-age shoppers don’t read newspapers anymore, and they certainly aren’t searching for that weekly insert.

Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with many retail and brand professionals who have voiced varying, often contradicting, opinions about the future of the store circular. However, the one thing that is firmly in consensus is that the future of the circular is digital.

But is it enough to simply digitize the existing circular?  I suggest that we learn from the painful decline of print newspapers. The striking evidence of that transition is the fact that today over 80% of millennials regularly consume news from Facebook and YouTube, and 57% use web search when they want to drill down. The telling measure of that decline is that advertising dollars have followed suit.

As the chart below shows, Google and Facebook now outstrip all traditional news outlets in advertiser spending. Beyond the obvious free fall in newspaper ad revenue, a closer examination reveals the surprising yet important fact that creating a digital version of the newspaper had almost no impact on newspapers’ ad revenue (as evidenced by the red graph). The sad truth is that readers have fundamentally changed their consumption habits, and newspapers have not adjusted accordingly.  

  (This chart is an actual example of this, with data published by NAA being augmented by the blogs Baekdal and Statcherry)

Dearest retailers and brand manufacturers, I am using this analogy to impress upon you that the future of retail promotion is not a digital version of the same old experience. Nor is it a question of ROI. It is a matter of understanding and satisfying the preferences, interests, and lifestyle choices of digital-age consumers. Either that or continue to throw money at something that simply won’t work for much longer.

So, if the circular of the future is not a digital version of the current one, what is it?  To answer the question, let’s further exhaust the newspaper analogy to learn about what the digital circular can and should be.

Building a Personal Digital Circular, a Percular

What we learn from the newspaper experience is that digital-age consumers consume content that is personally engaging and tailored to their preferences, in “places” they like to hang out (e.g. Google, Facebook, Instagram), and is there when they want it.

Allow me to introduce the concept of the Percular, the digital personal circular, an interactive magazine that serves customers personally engaging content, in their preferred “place,” at their preferred time.

The right content, at the right place, at the right time

As delivery channels go, email and SMS (with links) are good starting points; the store app and eCommerce sites come next; but clearly the Percular should feel at home in customers’ social media feeds and favorite content sites.

The Percular relies on predictive analytics to forecast when a customer will visit next, serving content just before a customer goes shopping, during her visit, and immediately after. This means that retailers can gradually shift from a one-time-fits-all model to more customized scheduling.

The right content is interactive and personally engaging. A Percular, using these guidelines, will recommend the customer truly relevant promotions on items that she regularly (or irregularly) buys, but also will effectively suggest cross-sell promo items that customers like her also bought, following the principles of social recommendations.  

Beyond discounts, the Percular will include varied and enriching content like surveys, facts, recipes, articles, videos, and more. Imagine clicking on the corner of a suggested promotion to view ingredients and other facts for that item. Next, consider recipes and how-to videos that are automatically suggested based on each customer’s typical basket items and taste. A quick-win with lapsing customers could be to pair a satisfaction survey with win-back offers on their most important items.

Before you head off to your winter holidays, let me clarify that I am not advocating that retailers dump the traditional circular tomorrow. It is still important to a substantial (albeit diminishing) group of consumers. However, as a retail marketer perhaps your New Year’s resolution for 2021 could be to look closer at your digital-age customers and to show them some tender love and care with a personal digital circular -a Percular. The good news is that state-of-the-art data-science and marketing technology is ready to support you in the journey.