Small retailers, whether online or on Main Street, are often the first businesses to feel the effects of an economic downturn. In many cases, a smaller retail business is unable to compete with the pricing that the larger big box department stores get, and customers are forced to buy at the lower prices of the big stores. But there are things that a smaller retailer can do to survive in a bad economy. With some imagination and a grass roots effort that includes your best customers spreading the word, a small business can even grow in a bad economy.

Customer Referrals

The first thing a small retail business needs to do is get its customers involved in referring new clients in a bad economy. Start giving out business cards to all of your customers with spaces on the back to write their name and contact information. Have your customers hand those cards out to anyone they know to encourage those people to visit your store. The card offers a 10 percent discount to your new customers, and it pays your referring customer $10. Word of mouth is one of the strongest forms of advertising, and a small cash reward can inspire your clients to start sending a slew of new customers your way. Make sure that the card states that the 10 percent discount is only for the first order, and the $10 reward is only paid once for each new client.

Add More Value

When clients are given a better value, then they tend to shop at a smaller store more often. One of the problems that people often encounter when shopping at a larger retail store is the lack of knowledgeable personnel available to assist customers with buying decisions. A smaller retail store should take the time to educate the staff so that customers can be assisted immediately with accurate answers to product questions.

Set up a small table at a central location in the store where customers can stop and ask questions about any of the products that you offer. If necessary, your customer service people should go into the store and find the product rather than making the customer bring the product to them. Customer service changes that may seem small to the store owner, but make the shopping experience smoother and more pleasant for the client, can make a difference during bad economic times. It allows the smaller retail store to make the customer feel appreciated, which can get lost with larger retail stores.

Share Advertising Costs

A smaller retail store should not stop advertising during difficult economic times. When the economy is bad, that is when consumers start combing the retail advertising in the newspaper even closer to try and find deals. One way a small retail store can help its own cause is by teaming up with other retail stores and splitting advertising costs. Stores that offer complimentary products can pool their resources and lower their individual advertising costs while maintaining their advertising presence. For example, a record store can team up with a stereo store to work on advertising to help drive traffic to both locations.

Customer Dedication

There will always be economic downturns that small retail businesses will need to address. But with some creative thinking, and some hard work and customer dedication, a small retail store can make the customer feel important and work to take some of that business from the big box retailers that can do not have the resources to make the customer feel special.