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Mystery Shopping Your Competitor’s Business Isn’t Enough. “Stalk” Them Online, Too!

Any business owner knows that one of the golden mantras of success is to:  Know Your Competition. 

The most obvious method of doing this is by visiting their store and observing how they price their merchandise, how their employees look and treat customers, what they have to offer, etc.—and then comparing that with what you offer at your own place of business.  Where do you succeed, or fail, in comparison?  What can you improve upon—or begin doing—that will drive new customers your way, as well as keep your current customers coming back?  How will these efforts impact customer loyalty?

There are a lot of insights to gain from using the above method—and it’s a great start.  But, aside from shopping there yourself and observing, you’re only getting half of the story.  You need to be able to “see” their culture, learn more about how they’re promoting their brand and how they speak with their customers.  The best way to do this is to check them out online, and often, via their website and any social media networks they might belong to, and then compare them to your own.  If you do not have a presence online, this might be a good time to decide whether you might benefit from one and take appropriate action.

A note on social media:  as a business owner, you might be hesitant to “like” or “follow” a competitor, but don’t be.  Doing so allows you to see their updates more quickly than searching for their site over and over again.  You can also bet that, if you have a site of your own, they might be following you as well!

Here are some questions to ask yourself when reviewing your competition online:


  • Is their website modern and up-to-date?  Does it reflect the image of their store?
  • Do they make content that changes periodically, keeping you up-to-date on changes or improvements they’ve made to their business?
  • Do they invite you to follow them via social media sites?
  • Do they feature customer or partner success stories or testimonials that support their branding message?
  • Do they support charities or participate in community outreach programs?
  • Do they make it easy to contact them with questions or for more information? 

Social Media (Facebook or Twitter)

  • Do they provide updates on a regular, consistent basis or only sporadically?
  • Do they interact with their fans?
    • Do they respond to comments, both positive and negative, or ignore them?  What is their general attitude when they do respond?  Are they helpful?
  • Does their site reflect their personality?  Does it do it even more than their website?
  • Do they post photos or videos that give fans an inside glimpse into their company’s culture?
  • Do they support charities or participate in community outreach projects?
  • Do they actively find ways to get fans talking? 

Not only can you get answers to the questions above, you can sometimes find little golden nuggets of information that YOU can use.  For example, a well-known convenience store brand recently posted a question for its fans on its Facebook page:  “What makes you loyal to us?”  Within six minutes, they had 419 responses.  Within 24 hours, there were 2,680 of them!  That’s a lot of little gems—not only for this company (learning more about their customers’ needs), but for you, too!  

For the sake of time, I took a sampling of the first 273 responses.  I created a spreadsheet and included different Attributes that might be important to a customer, such as Service, Convenience, Cleanliness, Food, Safety, Consistency, etc.  Then, I reviewed the responses and added a mark next to each attribute mentioned (note:  multiple attributes were marked, as most respondents mentioned several items).  Next, I created a percentage column and divided the grand total for each attribute by the total number of responses.  When I ranked the final results, I learned that of all the attributes, the top three factors most important to these 273 respondents were Customer Service (29.7%), Fountain (24.9%) and Cleanliness (19.8%).  Price came in at 10.6%. * 

What could you take from this information?  First, that there are more important things to customers than price alone.  Second, that you may have opportunities to meet some of these important customer needs in your own store, if you invest the time (or money) to do so—two of the top three attributes mentioned above are just the result of training, time and effort!

Knowing your competition can truly be beneficial to your businesses’ success, or failure.  Only by gathering research, both in person and online, can you better evaluate what you’re doing right, and what you might need to fix.  What do you have to lose by doing so?  Nothing!  So, start finding those ways to improve your business, increase sales—and win new customers!


* The results above would likely vary once all 2,680 responses were tallied; this is only an illustration of what could be done with the information.

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