How 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:
1. 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.
2. 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 art supply 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.
3. Ask a friend to 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’s store, 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. Ask a trusted friend who can be objective to shop in your store and report back about her experience.
4. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. If you are uncomfortable or may be recognized, send a store associate, friend or family member. Try to stop in occasionally just to say hello, and casually look around while you are there.
Try our “How Did It Feel’ exercise: Have your associates visit the competition posing as typical customers, going through all of the steps outlined in this article. When the associates return, ask 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 happens in your store.
5. Note your first impression. 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?
6. 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 to department?
7. Rate the in-store experience. Is it a fun place to shop or merely a place to buy “stuff”? Do customers linger or get in and out? 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.
8. 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 unique?
Is 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 product (think milk and eggs in a grocery store) or as impulse purchases? Are the displays clearly 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 clearance area?
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 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?
9. Are the associates attentive to shopper needs? Is there adequate coverage and people 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?
10. Check out each competitor’s Yelp business page weekly. 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.
11. 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 to and TalkWalker 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 competitionin each of the above categories, and then compare your store to each competitor to determine where and what you need to change.
Now, 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 a list and make changes to your store accordingly, checking them off the list as you go.
Sam 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 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?
Keep 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!