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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Ways to get customers in the door

Getting customers in the door is something a

Getting customers in the door is something a merchant must "self-generate," experts say. Credit: iStock

For brick and mortar establishments that rely on foot traffic, getting people in the door can be challenging.

The poor economy and rising gas prices have contributed to a decline in foot traffic overall, say experts. Given the weaker climate, businesses can't just rely on random walk-ins, but have to aggressively push to draw in customers.

"The only way for a business to get walk-in traffic is to self-generate it," says Jack K. Mandel, an East Norwich-based marketing consultant and a marketing professor at Nassau Community College. "It doesn't just happen."

The only exception to that generally is if you're located in a downtown destination shopping area like Huntington or Port Jefferson Village, says Mandel. These areas tend to generate more foot traffic.

If you're not in a destination, you need to create one, he notes.

Think up special occasions, he suggests. For instance, on Father's Day, restaurants can say, "Dad eats free." For graduation season, a store could say, "Graduates bring your report card and get a $10 gift card," says Mandel. You can set limits, like Dad eats free on a table of three or more.

"It should be themed, and the hostess should be walking over and shaking the hand" of that dad or graduate being honored, he says.

Businesses should also be:

Driving traffic. For retailers, since many people are browsing online, you should be working to drive traffic between your website and your physical store, says Bill Martin, founder of Chicago-based ShopperTrak, a shopper counting company.

"Online should drive them to the store and the store should drive them back online," he notes. For example, if customers order merchandise online and it doesn't fit, encourage them to take it back to the store. If they order online, encourage them to pick up the items at the store with free shipping to that location.

More than 90 percent of retail sales still take place in the store, says Martin, who estimates foot traffic last year nationwide among retailers was down about 3.2 percent.

Try different offers and incentives; then track how many people come in. If you understand the benchmarks and historical patterns of your foot traffic, it will be easier to gauge if a particular promotion is working or not, says Martin. ShopperTrak provides in-store shopper-counting sensors.

And don't just look at total visitors but also your transaction log, to see if they actually make purchases.

Make it an event. Think about hosting events or happenings, says Bob Phibbs, author of "The Retail Doctor's Guide to Growing Your Business" (Wiley; $19.95) and chief executive of The Retail Doctor, a retail consultancy in West Coxsackie, N.Y.

For example, a toy store could offer a free product testing with kids, or a cooking store could have demonstrations, he notes.

Use social media. Don't ignore social media, says Phibbs. It can help drive store traffic. He points to a toy store in Virginia that holds "crafternoons" and shoots video of whatever project they're making that afternoon; the store posts it online and encourages people to come down.

Peter Zorn, an owner of Zorn's, which has locations in Bethpage, East Meadow and Bellmore, says he's found social media to be a traffic driver. At the end of last year, the 72-year-old takeout restaurant got on Twitter and started a dialogue with its followers.

"Sometimes it's as simple as letting them know fresh apple pies are coming out in Bellmore," says Zorn. Working with CGT Marketing in Amityville, the chain also got on Foursquare to offer special deals. For instance, a person who checks in the first time gets 20 percent off their bill.

"You have to start to do different things and get more aggressive than you usually would," says Zorn, noting these various efforts have resulted in foot traffic increases.

Traffic generators

Social media tie-ins

Contests

Events

Demonstrations

Special offers

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