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Central & Western Massachusetts and Northeastern Connecticut
Tough Times for Business? BBB Advice on Wooing Customers this Holiday Season
December 01, 2008

Group of women holding various shopping bagsAll indications are that consumers will be very careful about their spending this holiday season and will be more vigilant than in recent years in their hunt for bargains and deals. In expectation of weak sales in the coming months, it’s up to retailers to develop creative ways for getting the attention of spendthrift customers and your Better Business Bureau is offering advice on some inexpensive marketing techniques that could pay off this season.

A survey of more than 7,000 consumers by the National Retail Federation found that consumers plan to spend an average of $832 on holiday-related shopping this season, up only 1.9 percent from $817 in 2007. In advance of a potentially weak sales environment, many small businesses are planning to engage in holiday marketing and promotions. According to a recent survey by Constant Contact, 76 percent of businesses surveyed are planning holiday promotions and last minute shopping offers, up from 62 percent in 2007. And more than half (53 percent) will begin marketing earlier this year than in previous years.

“Consumers and businesses alike will be feeling the squeeze this holiday season and while some companies might be tempted to cut spending by reducing marketing costs, that may not be the right cut to make,” said Nancy Cahalen, BBB President/CEO.  “This year, consumers will be looking for value from businesses and brands they can trust, and there are a number of proven ways companies can use marketing strategies, even with minimal budgets, to successfully drive customers to their door.”

Following are tips from BBB on holiday marketing with a limited budget:

Cross-promotion
Retailers aren’t the only ones who make a substantial percentage of annual income over the holidays. Restaurants, grocery stores, shipping companies and other industries also rely heavily on this season for a bump in sales. One form of marketing on the cheap is cross promotion. With cross promotion, two companies work together to raise awareness of both businesses, typically relying heavily on their separate strengths. For example, some retailers and restaurants hold in-store happy hour events together. Restaurants provide the food and drinks, and retailers provide the location.

Partner with a Charity
Unfortunately, this year is expected to hit charities extremely hard as families have less money to spread around. Partnering with a charity, either by supporting a fundraising event or offering to donate a portion of sales, can be a source of good PR around the holidays. Business owners might not have a lot of money to spare for contributions, but they can instead donate time, floor space, and promote volunteering among the staff.

Promote Great Customer Service
When every business is cutting costs and offering bargain basement prices, making a sale can come down to superb customer service. Great customer service is dependent on a friendly, capable and well-educated staff. To this end, retailers should make sure that staff are equipped with the skills to handle frazzled customers, as well as educated on new and popular products.

Click here for more advice on developing stellar customer service.

Cater to the Faithful
Bringing in new customers is always more expensive than creating new sales with current customers. For this reason, businesses should consider creative ways of making their faithful feel special. Examples include holding a private sale, appreciation coupons or a little perk such as free shipping for return customers.

Help Customers Help Themselves
With consumers looking to save at every turn, businesses that create advantages will certainly have an edge this holiday season. Consumers will be looking for angles that save them money on that perfect gift or reduce expenses on holiday meals. For businesses, the winners this year may well be those who can best meet customer needs in a tight economy. Selling as usual probably won’t work this year; businesses need to cater to the consumer’s desire to save money, beyond simply offering sale prices.

For more small business advice on customer service and tips for making it through a rough economy this holiday season, go to www.bbb.org.