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Next time you visit the supermarket compare what you've bought with what's on your shopping list. Unless you're very disciplined there is likely to be at least one impulse buy in your trolley.

Big supermarket chains are among the most successful businesses at grabbing their customers' attention and making them spend. But many of their techniques work just as well for smaller businesses.

Perhaps the price was ludicrously low and you didn't want to miss out, or the shop might have been running a two-for-the-price-of-one promotion. Maybe you spotted a product that would make your life much easier.

Perhaps the packaging caught your eye or you knew your child would eat a brand of yoghurt if it had a famous footballer's face on the side.

Pricing

Changing the price is one of the most effective marketing tools but remember that customers will start to grumble if a cut is quickly followed by a price hike.

Pricing a product just below a round number, for example, £2.95, rather than £3.00, works surprisingly well, especially if price is very important to your customers. Psychologically, they feel they're getting a bargain.

Selling one product at a knock-down price can be worth it if it pulls customers in. Positioning the "loss leader" next to a more expensive item can persuade people to spend because they feel they've saved money on the bargain.

Use the loss leader tactic sparingly so that customers don't resent your full-price products or start to see you as a "bargain basement".

Grab the customer's attention

Business Link, the Government's one-stop advice shop, urges customers to follow the acronym, AIDA. Grab the customer's Attention, stimulate their Interest, create the Desire to buy and confirm the Action to be taken.

Small bookshops followed this advice when JK Rowling produced her latest book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While supermarket chains and big retailers could afford to slash the £17.99 price tag independent shops had to offer something different.

Many poured money into elaborate window displays that grabbed the attention of passers-by. Publication night parties offered an experience that the supermarkets couldn't match and created a desire to buy the book. Selling a ticket for the party, which was also a money-off voucher, clinched the deal.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing suggests you think of "features" as "benefits" if you want to sell your products more effectively. You may, for example, see "reliability" as a key feature of your product.

But to a customer reliability means the benefit of a machine that works 24 hours a day. Step in to their shoes. Will it save them money, make life easier, improve their image?

Free advertising

There are several cheap, or free, ways to place your product in the public eye.

• Celebrity endorsement. When Delia Smith used cranberries and liquid glucose in two Christmas recipes sales of both soared. Watch out for famous faces who might be using a product of yours or send them one to try. If you're a small business or have a charitable link a famous person might be willing to say something nice about your business.

• Get your name in the press. Persuading a journalist to write about you will give you more credibility than buying advertising space. You could also offer to write an 'expert's piece' yourself.

• Enter competitions. Winning or even being shortlisted for a prize will raise your profile. Enter yourself, an employee, a product or the business itself.

Make it easy

Websites are another useful way to win over potential customers. Some companies include interesting facts, games or even a live webcam link showing their production line. Browsers may not buy the first time but if you keep them coming back you're half way to a sale.

Whichever method you use to snag your customers' attention make it easy for them to buy. If you write an article include a telephone number or website address at the end of the piece.

If you're promoting a particular product make sure you have enough stocks to meet demand and are fully staffed to meet the rush of customers.

Useful links

• Business Link: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk
• The Chartered Institute of Marketing: http://www.cim.co.uk


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