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Social media postings occasionally rant about flyers ending up in dumpsters and hurting the environment, but consumers can’t seem to do without the printed promotions.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The lowly print flyer is far from dead in the digital age.

Even as online technology has delivered a blow to the music, movie, magazine and other industries, it has yet to significantly disrupt the printed flyer business. Many major retailers keep printing the advertising pamphlets in significant numbers, while at the same time producing digital flyers.

Social media postings occasionally rant about flyers ending up in dumpsters and hurting the environment, but consumers can't seem to do without the printed promotions.

"Customers love their flyers," David Thorpe, general manager of marketing at B.C.-based London Drugs Ltd. said at a Retail Advertising & Marketing Canada panel on Thursday. "Customers demand flyers. To be competitive, you have to have flyers in the marketplace to show customers that you're there."

The rise of digital technology has pinched a host of industries, transforming their products into often easier-to-access and cheaper versions of their traditional offerings. But for now, print flyers remain omnipresent, distributed free to consumers and giving them less reason to ditch the printed word – and forcing retailers to produce both.

As many as 98 per cent of Canadians read a paper flyer at some point during a year, according to data from Jason Blanchette, vice-president of marketing promotions and planning at retailer Canadian Tire Corp. At the same time, 70 per cent of Canadians read a digital flyer in a year, he said.

Executives from Canadian Tire, London Drugs and home furnishings specialist IKEA Canada agree the printed flyer will still be around in 10 years.

"It's a routine and it's a comfort for customers," said Mr. Blanchette, adding Canadian Tire is printing more flyers than ever. Some people enjoy a glass of wine while reading paper flyers and others say the best place to read them is in the washroom, the retailer's research has found. "The paper flyer is king."

However, he also suggested that flyers will be different in a decade – decidedly thinner. He said a tipping point could come in the next several years when consumers will be drawn more to digital flyers than their printed counterparts, depending on how technologies evolve to make digital pamphlets more reader friendly.

Mark Baltazar, partner at market researcher BrandSpark International, said shoppers find print flyers easier to navigate and more time efficient.

And while print flyers are by far the dominant flyer used by shoppers, digital flyers are making inroads, said a report last month by BrandSpark. It found shoppers late last year consulted print flyers 7-per-cent less often than a year earlier and looked at digital flyers 5-per-cent more frequently.

But some big retailers are holding steady on the number of flyers they distribute. IKEA Canada, which places all its print flyers online, has maintained the same number of print flyers over the past couple of years, said Agamemnon Spiridoulias, direct marketing manager at IKEA Canada.

Even though there are "substantially" more costs tied to print flyers, they remain a "key tool" for IKEA, he said without providing details of the cost differences.

London Drugs has maintained flyer print levels over the past five years, Mr. Thorpe said later. But for every print flyer, it also distributes a digital flyer, he added. The number of consumers who rely on printed flyers remains unchanged "and at the same time we are reaching a new consumer segment with our traditional flyer through its digital version."

The retailers hold on to physical flyers despite pressure from environmental groups to drop them. Instead, the merchants say they have adopted greener methods, such as recyclable paper.

"There is not a significant pressure from our customer base to say, 'We don't want paper,' " Mr. Blanchette said, adding he expects "at some point in time" the retailer will feel the heat from shoppers.

"In fact, I think the love of paper is actually going up with customers because of the fact they just don't receive mail any more," he said. "People actually enjoy getting something in their mail box."

Still, Wehuns Tan, chief executive officer of digital flyer producer Flipp Corp., said the use of digital flyers has jumped in the triple digits over the past year – especially among millennials.

He said 90 per cent of Flipp users don't look at print flyers any more. "The same as what Craigslist did to classified ads, we're doing to flyers." On Thursday, Flipp introduced a feature that lets shoppers match local store deals with manufacturer coupons to find the best bargains.

And some retailers are shifting rapidly to dropping more physical flyers, most notably sporting goods chain Sport Chek, which is owned by Canadian Tire. Sport Chek, which spends roughly $20-million annually on print flyer ads, could shave those costs by up to 40 per cent by moving to a digital flyer, it has said. Canadian Tire spends more than $100-million a year on flyers.

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