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As gas prices continue to climb and people adjust their spending habits, sales of Spam are up and McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts are luring Starbucks' latte lovers.
Small retailers do not have to be disadvantaged by this shift. In fact, they can thrive, according to Steve O'Leary and Kim Sheehan, authors of a new book, "Building Buzz to Beat the Big Boys: Word of Mouth Marketing for Small Businesses," published by Praeger Publishers.
"Start with understanding the consumer mindset," O'Leary suggests. "In a tight economy, consumers will be less apt to make impulse purchases and more likely to spend time researching purchases in order to find the best value."
Following are 12 ideas they advise small retailers to consider as they develop a strategy to keep customers coming into their stores:
1) Continue advertising. History shows that marketers who stop advertising during an economic slowdown or recession lose market share.
2) Focus on existing customers. You know your customers better than anyone. You know what types of product mixes are most appropriate for them. Use this information to create offers that are most valuable to them.
3) Listen. Collect customer feedback. Use either formal methods, such as surveys, or informal ones, such as simply asking people in the store, to find out how your customers are dealing with economic rough times and how your store could help them. Ask what types of specials they would like to see.
4) Focus on the neighborhood. With record high gas prices, people are driving less. Allocate some of your marketing budget to current and potential customers who live close to your store and retail trading area. Print media is great for this effort, especially flyers, neighborhood penny savers and/or direct mail.
5) Promote value messages. Think about the prices you can offer as well as the discounts that might be available. Sort out what you can afford to offer without sacrificing profit and make both the price and the discount clear in your advertising messages and on store signage.
6) Politeness counts more than ever. Greet customers when they enter your store. Thank them when they leave.
7) Consider a loyalty program. If you don't have one in place, think about starting a punch card type loyalty program that is quick and easy to implement. Offer a bonus or a discount when a customer has returned to buy something within a certain number of weeks and/or visits.
8) Create benefit offers. Select specific products or services and package them into a value offer that you can advertise in-store and through traditional channels.
9) Dial up on personal service. Make sure your employees understand the value of exceptional customer service during this time when customers may be looking for reasons to switch.
10) Think treats. Even though customers are cutting back, according to Money Magazine, they plan to spend a small amount of their tax refund or rebate check on a small treat for themselves. Think about what you might offer your customers as a special, one time discount on a treat to get people into your store.
11) Partner with a local cause. During tight times, many of your customers may cut back on philanthropic giving. Partnering with a charitable cause reflects well on you, and it can also make your customers feel better about cutting back on their own charitable donations.
12) Evaluate advertising and response. If you are promoting sales and discounts in different vehicles, such as in the local newspaper or direct mail, track your response from each vehicle and adjust your budget accordingly.
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