It’s common retail advice. Shop your Competition. By seeing how other store owners conduct business, you can gain insight, inspiration, tips and techniques. You can measure your performance: what is your store doing better than the competition — and where do you fall short?
What should you be looking for when you shop the competition? Here are the top eight things:
1. Understand Who Your Competition Is!
Before you start this process, make sure you have clarity about who exactly your business is competing against!
Let’s say you run a gift store. Who’s your competition? Obviously, other gift stores. But that’s not all! The customer who’s looking to spend $50 celebrating Mother’s birthday might find what they’re looking for at a book store, an apparel shop, a jeweler’s — or they might take her out to dinner, or to a show, or for a hot air balloon ride! Be open to shopping ALL of your competition: you can learn something from every alternative.
2. Go Online
Google can be your best friend. You can shop your competition without ever leaving your store! Start by visiting their website — but don’t stop there.
Look on facebook, Twitter, and other relevant social media platforms. How active are they, and what type of engagement do they have with their fans or followers?
Look on rating sites and local search directories. Does your competition get rave reviews or countless complaints? Bear in mind that it’s human nature to rant more than rave, especially online — but this exercise can still be an eye opener!
3. Smile and Say Hello…
Or see if they do first! How long are you in your competition’s store before you’re greeted? What’s the approach like? What happens if you say, “Just looking?” If you have a question or need help, is it easy to find assistance? When you check out, does the cashier look you in the eye, talk with you, enhance the experience — or do they have their eyes down and their mind anywhere but on the job? Are you asked for any information, to join a loyalty club, or told about special offers?
4. Study the Signage
Take note of the signage your competitors use, both interior and exterior. Signs can be used to inform, sell, educate, entertain or deliver an emotional message. What your competitor DOESN’T do provides you with an immediate opportunity to outsell them. What your competition DOES do provides a benchmark to measure yourself against. Many retailers underutilize signage: this is one area to capitalize on as soon as possible.
5. Look for Policies & Procedures
How easy is it to return something to your competition? To place a special order? Do they deliver, ship, do alterations? How much do these special services cost?
How hard is it for you to find out this information? Is it on your competitor’s website, on signs in the store, easily accessible — or do you have to track it down by asking an employee? Do they know, or do they have to ask a manager?
Compare these performances to your own.
6. Analyze Their Offers
As objectively as possible, consider your competitor’s promotional offers. Are they focusing on price or creating events? Do they tailor their offers or are they one size fits all? What type of emotional hooks do they use? What type of customer are they trying to appeal to?
Look at language, color choices, fonts, graphics, and design. Yes, many ads are designed by third parties but your competition has final approval.
7. Study the Merchandise Mix
Obviously, you want to pay attention to what lines your competitor carries — but that’s only the beginning! How full is the store? Is the merchandise new and fresh or has it been hanging around for a while? Look at the merchandise mix: how is the division of good/better/best? How much “WOW” merchandise do they have? Do they have great promotable items?
8. Capture Good Ideas Instantly
Cell phones make overcoming visual merchandising challenges easier. See a display you like? Snap a picture. An attractive color scheme work for you? Same thing.
(Try to be subtle, but if someone questions, tell them you’re sending the image to your spouse/partner to get approval before you make a purchase!)
Use these images to inspire and refine your own visual merchandising efforts.
Becoming Comfortable Shopping Your Competition
Shopping your competition should be a regular part of your routine. It’s a task as essential as visiting the bank or making sure the trash is picked up each week. If you neglect it, your business will suffer!
If you haven’t been shopping your competition, it may feel awkward at first. Relax — you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s simply good business! With practice, it will feel more natural.
Keep your visits short, and don’t try to critique every aspect of the store on each visit. It’s okay to focus on one or two areas, concentrating on how they compare with your store.
Don’t be disappointed if nothing jumps out at you as immediately remarkable. Sometimes insight requires repeated exposure and cultivation. Be consistent and committed: you’ll be a better retailer as a result!