Field Notes from the War on Grocery | Dispatch #2: Circular Thinking

Recently, as I often do, I visited a grocery store. This one was on Long Island, NY. On this particular visit, I brought up the topic of circulars, as I am inclined to do:

Me: “So − just out of curiosity − how many circulars are you guys printing for individual stores each week?”

My Client: “Hundreds of millions.”

Me: “Wow, that’s a lot of dead trees. May I ask if you think many of your customers are still actually looking at them?”

My Client: “Not very many…but the few who do look at our circulars really love them.”

Me: “How about we take a small percentage of that circular budget and dedicate it to digital marketing?”

My grocer friend raised a brow and said, “Good idea. But never gonna happen.”

He gave me lots of reasons – commitments to his cooperative and/or association who sell the ad space in his circulars being top among them. Also, the customers who like circulars, really really like circulars. They’d complain if he stopped printing them…

A few days later I visited another grocer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. As I waited for the owner to finish fixing a problem with one of his registers, a sweet elderly woman walked up to him and tugged on his sleeve:

“Excuse me, is that this week’s circular over there? And how come when I see it online it’s so hard to read? Can you make it easier to read on my iPhone?”

And at that moment it hit me. I have to change my tactics. It’s not about shifting away from circulars; grocers have been using them for marketing for decades. It’s about making circulars natively digital. With this in mind, I pushed our product team to expand the features of our proprietary email marketing suite to include e-circular-style content. This feature is now in regular use on our platform both in the U.S. and Israel— and getting rave reviews from shoppers and our supermarket clients.

Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods was essentially a declaration of “War on the Independent Grocer.” My clients recognize that to simply keep printing circulars when Amazon is developing AI and delivery drones and machine learning and virtual reality and programmatic ad buying and a billion other patented ideas is like bringing a toothpick to a knife fight. Today’s independent grocers know they must evolve. But they can keep their circulars if they want to. Many consumers do love them − they just want them to be readable on their iPhones.


Duke Marr,

CMO, Self Point


About Self Point

Self Point is the leading digital transformation partner for supermarkets, specialty food retailers and consumer packaged goods brands. Serving as change agents, we roll up our sleeves and work alongside grocers and suppliers to support you in gaining a competitive advantage.

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