The Role of Magazines at Retail: A Reader-and-Buyer Study

Magazines Canada Retail Research Project

The Role of Magazines at Retail

A new national survey of shoppers and retailers conducted by BrandSpark International for Magazines Canada found that Canadians of all ages enjoy browsing for and buying magazines on shopping trips. They are willing to pay for the convenience and experience of reading a physical copy, and they demonstrate a deep appreciation of Canadian content.

The study shows that actual consumer behaviour around magazine reading and buying makes a compelling business case for magazines at retail. Retail stores that have maintained magazine space and selection report that they have maintained sales. Shelf space allocation, especially at checkout locations, and reduced checkout waiting time are major, retailer-controlled influences on sales volumes.

Shoppers were surveyed in July 2017. Detailed information was obtained from 1,500 Canadians age 18+ who shop for their households and are regular magazine readers or buyers. These are individuals who read magazines at least once a month, or who purchased at least one magazine in the past three months. As a benchmark, recent readership research by Vividata found that 76% of Canadians aged 18+ read a Vividata-measured magazine in the last 6 months. Of these, 92% read print editions only or both print and digital formats.

Executives and buyers at Canadian mass retailers were interviewed in August and September 2017. Store types included grocery, discount, drug, bookstore and newsstand.

Read the full report: The Role of Magazines at Retail: A Reader-and-Buyer Study from Magazines Canada and BrandSpark


Key Findings from the Research

  • Reading frequency: 50% of survey respondents read a magazine in print format at least once a week, while 28% read digital editions with the same frequency. Survey respondents are also frequent newspaper and book readers. Four in 10 watch movies at home at least once a week.
  • Buying frequency: 41% of respondents buy one or more magazines per month—more often than the 26% who purchase books this often. Magazines also outperform newspapers, greeting cards and books with in-store conversion from awareness to final purchase. Average purchase frequency is higher in Quebec. Purchase frequency is similar among all age groups except those age 18–34, who buy less often.
  • People who pay for magazines—at retail or by subscribing—tend to read them more often. Subscribers purchase magazines at retail almost as often as do non-subscribers, suggesting that a subscription does not replace single-copy purchases. A minority of readers (35%) report accessing only free magazines, such as pass-along or public place copies.
  • Readers buy magazines at a variety of locations: 56% at grocery stores, 44% at discount mass merchants, 41% at drug stores and 24% at book stores. Other locations named by 31% of survey respondents are convenience stores, newsstands and gas stations.
  • Browsing at the newsstand is an in-person, tactile experience that’s not possible online. It’s an important route to discovery of new magazines and new interests. On average, survey respondents browsed magazines during 3.5 of their last 10 shopping trips, purchasing a magazine on 1.1 of these trips. Most commonly, buyers mentioned front covers as purchase motivations.
  • About half of magazine purchases are planned to some degree, from seeking out a specific title, to seeking out a particular category of magazine, to simply seeking out a magazine in general. Top-selling titles benefit most often from planned purchases. The remaining half of purchases are impulse buys. Browsing and discovery of new magazines or special issues are vital to the impulse purchase, as are covers that attract and appeal to shoppers. Impulse buys are more typical among light readers than heavy readers.
  • Retailers typically carry a relatively small selection of Canadian magazines, yet shoppers demonstrate a strong appetite for Canadian content. In many stores, Canadian magazines outsell their U.S.-based counterparts. In 2017, Canada 150 specials in particular were very popular.
  • The research found a correlation between paid media and awareness of its origin. Readers who pay for magazine content know whether it’s Canadian or not.
  • Survey respondents whose shopping trip included a magazine purchase report greater satisfaction with their shopping experience.

Display Space Leads to Sales

Maintaining retail newsstand presence has grown more costly for magazine publishers, leading some to reduce their retail distribution.

Consumer behaviour shows the need to maintain and grow retail space for magazines, especially Canadian magazines.

  • Opportunities
    About half of magazine purchases are impulse-based. Adding those shoppers who purchase magazines without a specific type or title in mind brings the total to 72% of shoppers for whom retail selection and display provide inspiration. Opportunities exist to increase sales by leveraging four key elements:

    1. Visibility: Shoppers do judge a magazine by its cover—but first they have to see the magazine rack.
    2. Browsability: An accessible location in the store with an easy-to-browse, organized display.
    3. Diversity: A large, varied selection appealing to many interests, including Canadian content.
    4. Promotional pizzazz: Shoppers love special pricing, special editions, timely event tie-ins, local content, loyalty points and creative merchandising.
  • Store traffic
    Magazines help to draw traffic.
  • Basket builders
    Magazines are impulse basket builders. They are usually an incremental purchase during a trip for groceries or household products.
  • Labour
    Magazines may require some retail effort, but delivery, return policy and merchandising revenue can offset the effort.
  • Location, location, location: Checkout and mainline displays generate the most sales, with close to half of grocery, mass merchant and drug store purchases occurring at checkout. Other locations can be effective, but are harder to manage.
    • At mass retail stores, top-selling magazines are weeklies, gossip/celebrity titles and food/lifestyle content. All tend to be at checkout locations.
    • At bookstores, a visible magazine display helps draw traffic into the store and get shoppers browsing. As “stores for readers,” for bookstores, magazines are a core element that helps support their lifestyle positioning.
    • Priority placement goes to the magazines with high revenue potential from sales and merchandising dollars.
    • For newsstand businesses at transit and travel locations, magazines are typically the top revenue producing category, followed by tobacco, lottery, candy and books.
  • Subscribers
    Subscribers are also single-copy buyers, although they purchase magazines at retail slightly less often than do non-subscribers.
  • Multi-magazine deals
    Many shoppers take advantage of 3/$10 multi-magazine deals, but these don’t work for all retail banners.
  • Younger shoppers
    With a steady stream of fresh issues, magazines are one way retailers can appeal to younger shoppers in particular. These shoppers are keen to discover new ideas and new products, as they develop their own tastes and preferences.
  • Merchandising revenue
    Merchandising revenue is an important part of retailers’ business formula, and provides the surest way to maintain space allocation. It’s not cheap, but it buys the in-store location and visibility that can drive sales.

Magazines Motivate Consumers to Act

Magazine readers are responsive consumers. They read and act on magazine ads that attract their attention. Of survey respondents:

  • 55% searched online
  • 46% used coupons and advertised promotions
  • 44% visited the advertisers’ website
  • 29% clipped or saved ads
  • 21% told others about ads
  • 14% liked or followed the advertiser on social media
  • 11% had a better opinion of the advertiser

The more often people read magazines, the more likely they are to take any of these actions.

  • Women are slightly more likely to act on magazine advertising.
  • No difference by age: Millennials are as responsive as older groups.

Magazine readers are responsive to promotional efforts, and show a willingness to make discretionary purchases based on the in-store experience. Nearly 1 in 2 purchased an item they did not plan to buy on their last grocery trip.

The Magazines Canada research conducted by BrandSpark International was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Periodical Fund.