often do you mystery shop your competition – in person, online and on social
medias? Monthly, yearly? Never? Shopping your competition is an exercise that
needs to happen at least once a quarter. Here’s what to do:
Make a list of everything you need to know about each competitor. When we mystery shop we carefully examine
the operational categories in the store, and then rate each one on a scale of 1
to 10. It’s an opinion, but it’s a good one. Yours will be, too.
Begin by determining where you stand in your marketplace. Send someone you trust to a public place
near your store to ask people if they can recommend a good (whatever you sell)
store. If your store is mentioned first, you have built Top Of The Mind
Awareness – good job! If you are not mentioned first, or worse, not at all, you
have some work to do to build local word of mouth.
Mystery shop your store.
Your perception of how you are doing could be tremendously different from the
customers’ perception. We did this exercise with a retailer who thought his
store the best, so we took him to visit a new competitor and then came back to
do the same exercise in his store. It was an eye opener; he realized how much
work he had to do to bring his store up to speed. So, ask a trusted friend who
can be objective to shop in your store and report back about their experience.
You don’t have to do shop the competition yourself. If you are uncomfortable, or think you may
be recognized, send a store associate, friend or family member.
our “How Did It Feel” exercise: Assign various associates the task of visiting
the competition, posing as typical customers, going through all of the steps
outlined in this article. When the associates return, have them to document
their visits, breaking down everything they experienced in each area of the
store. After each comment ask, “How did it feel?” You’ll learn what that
competitor did well and where they fell down. Compare those findings with what
typically happens in your store.
Pay attention to first impressions.
Is the competitor’s store interesting from the minute you approach it? How are
the store windows? Shoppers access your window displays in eight seconds or
less, so they can’t be too elaborate. Once inside, the average shopper makes a
value judgement about a store – good or bad – in just 10 seconds or less: What
vibe does the store give? What happens just beyond the Decompression Zone, the
first 5 to 10 feet inside the front door?
Analyze the customer flow.
Does the sales floor layout create and control how customer traffic flows
through the store? A retail study found that 50 percent of shoppers never see
the entire sales floor. Does this competitor easily move shoppers from department
Rate the customer experience.
Is it a fun place to shop or merely a place to buy stuff? Do customers linger
to browse or get in and out quickly? Stop in each important area of the sales
floor and watch shoppers, trying to see the merchandising and customer service
through their eyes. Watch how shoppers enter the store, which way they go and
why, plus what they look at, how long they linger in specific areas, along with
what they buy and return.
Rate the overall appearance of sales floor. Does it motivate shoppers to buy? What do they do to
highlight important product? Is the merchandise fresh or dated? Is the sales
floor neat and clean? Are displays well maintained and dust free? Are they
cash wrap organized and merchandised with impulse items? Is it clutter free?
Where are important basics and hot sellers located on the sales floor? Are
displays merchandised as a destination (think milk and eggs in a grocery store)
or as impulse purchases? Are the displays neatly signed and is the merchandise
clearly and competitively priced? Don’t forget to visit service areas,
classrooms, and rest rooms, too.
o How does the retailer differentiate
between full price and markdown merchandise? Where and how is reduced and
clearance product merchandised: in its regular department or in a special
o Does the store have a signing program? Is
it effective? Does it reinforce the overall feeling of the store’s brand? Are
signs well-placed and legible? Is there a standard format and font or are they
handwritten and taped to fixtures?
o What’s the pricing perception compared to
yours? Is the retailer trying to convey an upscale, high level of quality
service combined with a unique experience, or as a discount merchant with
little apparent visual merchandising?
Are the associates attentive to shopper needs? Is coverage adequate? Are associates available
to help with difficult customer questions? Put the store associates through
their paces to find out if they possess specialized skills and strong product
knowledge. Do they focus on customers or sales floor maintenance?
Check each competitor’s Yelp business page. Review yours, too. Think you don’t have a Yelp page? You may
have one even if you didn’t set it up. If a customer decides to review your
store that review will create a page for you. Claim it and review it to see
what is being said. Fill in all the areas, add photos, respond to comments –
good and bad – and then monitor it weekly. Daily, if you are getting lots of
reviews. And don’t worry about cost; it’s free.
Monitor the ZMOTs (Zero Moments of Truths) that happen online before shoppers
choose to visit your store.
Google Alerts are still important but you’ll also want to set up free accounts
with Mention.com to and TalkWalker.com to learn what’s being said about your
store online. Each of these sites will email you a link each time you are
mentioned that will take you directly to that website. We have alerts set up
for ourselves, our company, and each company/competitor we want to monitor.
o Review the 1 to 10 grades you gave the
competition in each of the above categories, and then compare your store to
each competitor to determine where and what you need to change.
review each associates “How Did It Feel?” exercise findings and merge your
experience with what the associates’ experienced. What you saw and felt will
likely be very different from your teams – that’s a good thing.
o Create a Hit List. You have now
established a list of things you need to change and improve. Make changes to
your sales floor as necessary, checking them off the list as you go.
Walton was famous for spending quality time in every kind of retail establishment
you can imagine; he believed that he could find at least one great idea even in
the schlockiest joints. Sam also believed that to succeed in retail you have to
change all the time. What one idea can you take from each mystery shopping
experience and apply to your store?
on top of every retail trend, industry update, and competitor. Someday, you could find yourself in a serious
competitive battle with a store you thought was totally out of your league.
Commit to shopping your competition, and regardless of what you find, vow to
try it, fix it, change it – do it!