How to survive a recession

5. Adjust your product portfolio

Recessions spur changes in buying practices as customers pursue better value for money, so it’s often smart to rebrand or launch new products to meet their new expectations. Car makers saw a big swing in buying preferences in the downturn, says Andrew Humberstone, UK managing director of Fiat.

“Consumers have downsized to smaller, more economically viable and more environmentally friendly cars,” he says. “Fiat ticks all those boxes – we have the lowest emissions of any manufacturer in Europe. We’ve seen significant growth: our overall market share is significantly up from two years ago.” Fiat’s big win was the launch of its new 500 model in January 2008. The product fitted market sentiment superbly: compact, economical and reasonably priced, it has sold more than 40,000 units.

January 2009 saw Waitrose launch a budget line of products, some of which were 25 per cent cheaper than its normal range. “Waitrose plans to mix with the discounters”, exclaimed the headlines. Well, not quite – but it was a smart response to a trading environment that hit premium food sales hard. At the launch, chief executive Mark Price called it: “the biggest decision and the biggest launch in the history of Waitrose.” It paid off: sales increased by 7.4 per cent between March and August 2009.

6. Increase your online presence

“Going online, whether for information or transactions, has been a trend. We see a lot of growth in online transactions that correlates with recessions,” says Luger of Manchester Business School. Internet shopping growth today is slowing, but even January 2010 figures, the worst since records began, showed five per cent year-on-year growth and a £4.3bn monthly spend. Luger says that the deflationary environment in this recession has enabled people to continue shopping, albeit with less disposable income, but they are spending that money online at home. Analysts expect enthusiasm for online shopping to stay high.

Non-consumer-facing businesses, too, can benefit from adopting web technologies to increase their business-to-business reach and connect with clients.

There are myriad ways to tailor an online portal to encourage customers to buy more. Tesco, for example, lists recipes on its shopping website and offers customers a “buy all ingredients” option that adds everything to their basket in one click.

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