Earlier this summer, we shared in an email that we saw certain economic conditions coming our way that would impact consumer’s shopping behaviors. While the glow of unexpectedly robust Q2 revenue was still fresh in many retailer’s minds, we shared that based on feedback from our July consumer survey, we saw a reversal coming our way along with a shift in shopping patterns. You can access our original article here.

Shoppers told us they were concerned about the economy and that they would adjust their household shopping budgets accordingly. Well, it played out pretty much as we expected. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal confirmed our predictions in an article titled “With Second Stimulus Check on Hold, Americans Spend Less at the Grocery Store.”  Source: Wall Street Journal August 27, 2020

In the article, they outlined in great detail how shoppers are cutting back, making fewer trips to the store, and shifting towards savings anywhere they can find them.  Here are a few quotes from the article:

  • Walmart executives said consumers are nervous about their finances and job security in the absence of stimulus aid leading to cutbacks in spending. Chief Executive John Furner said, “So we’ll be thoughtful about the way we plan the rest of the year and react to changes in trends we see from our shoppers.”
  • Gordon Reid, President of Shop & Stop, said he expects price to be a challenge for consumers in the last quarter of the year and into next year.  He said “customers have become more price-conscious. Reid also noted that the grocer’s advertisements which went down to four pages from the usual 10 pages at the start of the pandemic are now back up to eight pages. ” 
  • Fewer trips to the grocery store along with smaller receipts per visit are typical patterns during a recession. As consumers gravitate toward value, food companies and retailers say they are preparing to offer discounts that can intensify competition.

In our original email, we noted that 72% of shoppers were telling us they will spend less in the coming days and that “Value-Conscious” shoppers will be more critical to growth than ever. You can access the full report on our survey here.  Re-engaging shoppers with promotional advertising will be vital in protecting market share.

Over a month ago, Albertsons CEO, Vivek Sankaran, said during an interview on CNBC, “They are focused on growing profits by winning more market share”. Albertsons/Safeway has been consistently advertising in printed circulars since late May.1 By mid-July, we observed that Albertsons had the highest page count of all grocers and their circular featured 20 money-saving coupons.2 Coincidentally ( or maybe not ), Albertsons has just been voted Retailer of the Year by Supermarket News.

We are confident that promotion driven advertising will be the next battlefield for market share. Retailers that commit to consistently communicating their savings and promotional items will be able to protect and potentially grow market share.

Recently, we have seen an expansion in total ad pages coming from Fred Meyer. The grocery section has seen incremental growth. However, the most notable increase is coming from their general merchandise category, with eight additional pages. They are seizing an opportunity by filling a current void in the marketplace.

Lowe’s and Ace Hardware continue to be more visible in the home improvement category with regular distribution and expanded page counts coming out for Labor Day.  In the absence of competitive print advertising, we can expect to see a market share shift to these companies.

As for What’s Ahead?

Likely, more of the same. We don’t think you can count on fourth-quarter holiday shopping to turn things around. The pandemic is still with us and while there is talk of vaccines, the odds they will be available and have a meaningful impact before the holidays is relatively low. That means fewer and smaller family and social gatherings.

The economy is still a massive concern. Recently, two airlines announced major layoffs will occur when the Paycheck Protection Program ends in October. This is fueling speculation that more industries will do the same. Additionally, politicians in Washington continue to delay in approving a second stimulus package. Not a great way to start the holiday shopping season. Expect that uncertainty surrounding unemployment and the economy in general will continue to drive value-conscious shoppers to seek out affordable options when planning their shopping.

Is There a Bright Spot?

With colder weather returning, expect outdoor dining options to decrease and the move to more home-cooked meals. Additionally, there will be demand for the convenience of prepared meals. For grocers, you can capitalize on this by promoting weekly prepared specials, and this also gives you an entrée into the holidays. Sorry about the pun. While we expect demand to be smaller, there will be opportunities to capture more share in this segment if retailer offerings are effectively advertised.

Even with the push towards value-driven shopping, we understand that you can’t always compete on price, but you can compete on awareness. People will shop where they are invited. Nothing magically changed during the pandemic. Print ads still drive traffic and sell products. If you put an ad in a customer’s hands, they will look at it. If you don’t, they will look at a competitor’s ad.

There is an old adage about advertising that says, “Advertise when and where your competitors are not.” If they are not using print, then maybe you should. If they are not in the mailbox, that’s a good place for you.


The printed advertising circular is a time-tested advertising tool that belongs in any retailer’s multi-channel marketing plan.  We would welcome an opportunity to discuss your marketing programs and share with you how incorporating print can give you an advantage in the market place.