“Mystery Shopping” might bring to mind images of Nancy Drew and her teen friends hitting the mall, but it is actually a very handy business strategy that you’d be crazy not to harness. The idea is simple: You, or someone you trust, phones and/or goes into the stores of your competition and acts as though you’re a potential customer. The goal of "mystery shopping" your competitors is to ascertain what your competitors are not doing, that you could do, or what they are doing that you could do better.
Steps to successful mystery shopping:
Step 1 - Select Your Competitors
When selecting competitors to mystery shop, you need to consider what options your customer has for the service or product you provide. ls yours a service that can only be performed in person? If so, you may only need to mystery shop other competitors in your geographical area, as customers will be limited to the businesses they can physically access. However, if you provide goods that are widely available and can even be ordered over the phone or online, you may need to broaden the scope of your mystery shopping.
Step 2. Select Your Mystery Shopping Method
Online, via phone or in person.
Step 3 Identify What You Want to Know
What is it that you are wanting to know? What will you be looking for? Develop a list for your mystery shopper to look for. For example: customer service, product and business’ policy. You could get them to score each business out of 10 in each category.
Step 4 - Engage a Mystery Shopper
There are organisations that will offer professional mystery shoppers for your business to use. Several of these can be easily found online by simply typing ‘Professional Mystery Shoppers’ into a search engine. You may however, want to train a member of your own team to be a mystery shopper; or, if you are going to make your enquiries online/on the phone, you could do it yourself.
Step 5 - Implement
Identify what aspects you could improve on and before you implement a new strategy for setting yourself apart from the competition, you want to be confident that the changes you make to your business are going to be unique. With this in mind you should compare the results of multiple competitors and attempt to identify a feature which is consistently missing, or in need of improvement from their service.
Sort your list of findings into positive and negative aspects. Identify positive aspects your business currently does not offer [e.g. warranty, discount on delivery, faster service] and the negative aspects your business can improve upon (e.g. limited trading hours, can't/won't hold stock for a customer, crowded shelving.
Now you’ve done some market research, implement the changes that it has highlighted to you!