Retailers and service providers typically know their top contenders. Customers often mention competitors while shopping, trying to get the best deals on pricing, warranties, incentives and amenities such as delivery and maintenance. Many clients not only want to know how their own stores and employees are performing but are curious what their rivals are doing to remain viable and profitable, a practice called competitive mystery shopping. Review some of our best competitive mystery shopping tips for you, the shopper.

Shoppers may be assigned two shops, one for a brand name client and one for a named competitor, or simply shop one or the other. The key to making these reports successful is to include detailed comments on what the sales associates say in their sales presentations so clients can spot areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments.

Competitive mystery shopping is challenging and rewarding. The scenario you create has to be believable and flexible enough to easily adjust as the sales presentation twists and turns and new questions are asked by the associate. The picture you paint of the salesperson is vital to the client’s assessment of how their sales can be increased.

Preparing for the Shop Visit

Advance preparation makes competitive mystery shops easy. Do a little online research to get a feel for the store’s products, services, and their customer service philosophy. Approach the shop with a solid scenario in mind that can easily and naturally be altered as the interaction proceeds. For example, if you shop a hardware/home improvement store, have the details of your project clear in your mind so you sound believable when you seek assistance on materials and tools. For a mattress shop, be prepared to answer questions about your current mattress, sleeping position, aches and pains you’d like to alleviate, preferred pillow type, etc. You’ll have ample time to review the shop details/questions before you shop to make preparation easier.

The Visit

Depending on the type of shop, it may take 30 minutes or more, so schedule your time accordingly. Many sales associates are required to cover a variety of points in their presentations and you must let them proceed without interruption and act interested. Ask pertinent questions and allow them to build rapport as they move towards closing the sale.

Posing Objections

This is especially important for competitive shops as it lets clients analyze how well their staff and the staffs of competitors are overcoming customer objections. Good, believable responses include needing to discuss the purchase with your partner or checking your finances (for large purchases over $1000). If the sales associate asks if you’re shopping around, respond that they are your first stop but you will be checking out other stores. Your final objection needs to include the name of a local competitor (supplied in shop guidelines) that you want to check out before making a final decision.

Wrapping Up

When you mention the competitor, the salesperson will typically reiterate a few points that make choosing their store a better option. Upon closing the visit, a business card and other promotional materials may be offered. If none are presented, request a card or other proof of your visit with the salesperson’s name on it. You can provide real or fake contact information if asked for it.

Competitive mystery shopping is not only fun, it’s educational. Even if you’re not currently in the market for what you’re “shopping” for, you may use what you’ve learned for future purchases or share your knowledge with a friend or family member to help them make a wise decision.

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