Retail Media: CVS Scales Back on Print Circulars

Jacqueline Barba
Associate Editor
Jacqueline Barba profile picture

CVS Pharmacy has updated its digital circular to better elevate available ExtraCare coupons and offers as it pulls back its print tab from some markets.

“Our customers are more digitally engaged than ever, and we’re focused on meeting them where they are and providing a great on-the-go shopping and savings experience,” a CVS spokesperson told the Path to Purchase Institute.

In a Jan. 16 email blast, CVS said its “weekly ad is going digital” and its print circular is going away as of Jan. 31. However, the CVS spokesperson told the Institute that "while we are cutting back on our printed weekly circular ads in some newspapers, customers who prefer a printed copy can still find one at any neighborhood CVS Pharmacy location. It will also be available in newspaper circulation in select markets.”

Similar to Southeastern Grocers’ circular revamp last year, the CVS digital circular, powered by Flipp, now enables skimming by scrolling down vertically rather than virtually flipping through pages horizontally. While the actual circular pages are laid out the same as before, clicking a feature now opens additional details and available offers to the right of the circular. The “Shop Now” and “Add to List” buttons that previously appeared by hovering over a feature also now appear on the right. CVS ads promoting retailer programs like CarePass and delivery services link directly to dedicated web pages within for more information.

Channel rival Walgreens suspended distribution of its Sunday print circular back in June, telling the Institute in a statement at the time: “In light of the accelerated consumer behavior shifts driven by COVID-19, the weekly circular will transition exclusively to digital as we temporarily suspend the printed version as we look to enable more agile ways to meet customer needs.”

The pandemic and consumers' rapid embrace of digital platforms almost certainly played a role in CVS’ decision as well. This move comes six months after CVS launched a digital media advertising platform dubbed CVS Media Exchange. Plus, the Institute’s own Shopper Behavior Monitor survey conducted in cooperation with Edge Marketing in September 2020 — just before a second surge in U.S. COVID-19 cases and deaths — examined shifts in a wide range of behaviors including online shopping and alternative fulfillment, and how those changes have evolved over the course of the pandemic.

The online survey of more than 1,000 primary household grocery shoppers found that, in terms of pre-shop behavior frequency, 30% of respondents said they were using digital store sales flyers and digital coupons more often than they were in the early days of the pandemic, while almost 50% said their usage was unchanged. Comparatively, 27% of respondents said they used print store sales flyers more often than before the pandemic and 28% said they used digital coupons more often. However, print coupons and store sales flyers both narrowly beat digital coupons and store sales flyers in importance as 7% of respondents ranked print most important and 6% chose digital coupons. Access an interactive version of the full Shopper Behavior Monitor here.