Real Talk

Competitive Mystery Shopping

RBG’s clients represent all types of consumer industries. From keeping your pet healthy to home improvement, fast and slow food purveyors, banking, hotels, automotive care and valet parking, businesses across the country care so much about providing quality goods and services, they invest in top quality mystery shopping services.

However, in many cases, conventional mystery shopping reports aren’t enough. While these reports assess key points like employee performance, service quality, and the value of what they sell, when a direct competitor opens up next door, or an existing one revamps their operations and suddenly has a line of customers circling the block, it’s time to up the ante.

Competitive mystery shopping focuses on aspects that are head-to-head with what a particular store sells. These stores may sell only one type of product, such as lamps or tires, or may cater to a particular niche like DIY home improvement or general automotive repairs.

When shoppers perform competitive shops, they are typically required to shop for a particular brand or service that a client believes they are being “beaten” on by price, warranties, incentives, customer service, environment or a combination thereof. If the client discovers they are competitive in those areas, they move on to other areas where the competitor may have an edge. Eventually, the advantage the competitor has is discovered and the client gains the desired insight.

The areas of focus for competitive mystery shopping vary greatly by industry. RBG works closely with clients to determine the most probable areas of concern and designs the reports accordingly. The following areas are most likely where competitors are gaining an advantage and where extra effort and improved strategies may turn the tables.

Product/Service Comparison

Customers thrive on getting good deals, as evidenced by the tactful boasting they do about their conquests. If XYZ lamp store sells the exact brand and model for a few dollars less than ABC lamp store, they get the sale. But if ABC can’t make a profit at a lower price point, they have to sweeten the deal by throwing in a free lampshade, offering free lampshade repair, or presenting some other incentive that entices the customer to purchase from them. Similarly, if store A home improvement center has lower plywood prices than competitor store B, store B needs to offer free cutting or free delivery to gain customer loyalty.

Store Design and Navigation

Oftentimes, it’s not all about pricing. Even if a store sells a product or service at 10 to 15 percent less than a local competitor, if the shopping experience is unpleasant, many customers are willing to pay a bit more to avoid hassles. Competitive mystery shopping reports often reveal conditions businesses were not aware of. Common store design complaints frequently include poor signage identifying aisles and departments, towering displays of 30+ feet that seem dangerous and imposing, poor layout (for example, nails on aisle 1, hammers on aisle 12), and cluttered cash register areas. Frequent navigation criticisms include narrow aisles, precariously stacked displays, products on unreachable shelves, and faulty shopping carts.

Quality of Customer Service

The old cliché “Customer is king” is more than an alliterative axiom; it’s true. A retailer may offer a free beverage with every purchase but if the cashier is sullen, the wait in line is unreasonable, or the food preparer never holds the mustard on your sandwich as requested, the customer will gladly pony up the two bucks for a drink at the place across the street based solely on the quality of service. When shopping in a large store with many departments, lack of visible and available personnel to offer assistance will drive customers away. Employee knowledge is also crucial to customer satisfaction. Not all employees can know every answer but they should know who to ask to satisfy customer inquiries. Saying, “I don’t know,” and not seeking help from a more experienced associate makes customers feel undervalued and frustrated, and they will quickly go to a competitor seeking professional answers they can trust.

Negative Comments

Although we like to think competitors would never disparage rivals with negative remarks, the practice still exists. Some RBG competitive shopper reports require the shopper to mention by name a major competitor they will visit before making their buying decision. This may or may not prompt negative feedback from the associate but it’s worth a try to see if a retailer is being bad mouthed by a marketplace challenger.

Competitive mystery shopping reports provide more insight and perception to the client than standard ones. Shoppers generally enjoy the experience of comparing how businesses gain or maintain their advantage in highly competitive environments and get paid for their observations.

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