Secret Shopping The Competition

You can learn a lot about what to purchase and how to sell it by observing how others do it. Shorty’s Garden & Home, for example, sends the purchasing team and the sales manager out regularly to review other stores.

But it’s not just management-level staff that can bring back ideas that help with buying and selling. Shorty’s encourages its staff to do critiques of restaurants and other retail stores. On a day off, a salesperson can earn a Shorty’s gift card for doing a 30 minute review of a local business from a list put together by general manager Colin Mahoney, and then answering in a set of questions.

“It’s great experience,” he says. “For example, I might ask you to pay attention to how the server talks and how they approach you. Did they ask yes or no questions or did they ask loaded questions? How did they engage you? Did they sound scripted?”

The staffers become attuned to the service – good or bad – they’re receiving, and also start to pick up some great sales tips.

“We look at how restaurants price. If you look at menus, you’ll see there’s a trend at high end restaurants right now of eliminating the dollar sign from the price of the product. So an appetizer might have the number 5 next to it rather than $5.99. That’s a subconscious, psychological decision they made to remove the dollar sign. Why? They don’t want you to remember you’re spending money,” Mahoney says. He’s seen data showing the strategy leading to double digit increases in appetizer sales.

“We’re trying that here in our advertising,” he says. We’re printing our prices without a dollar sign in front of them when they’re regular prices. But when we are advertising a discounted price, we’ll change the color of the font from black to red, which is very common, and we’ll add the dollar sign back in to remind them they are saving money. You’re playing a visual, subconscious psychological game there.”

Sending staff out in teams can help too, Mahoney says. “You might have a salesperson that’s a very dedicated, loyal employee, who’s not necessarily a top performer in sales but have a lot of potential. Have them get together with the best sales person on the staff on a day off, give them a $50 gift card each to spend an hour together in a mentoring situation going through Nordstrom. Nordstrom is a beautiful example of good clothing retail. Pay attention to how the registers look. Are they clean? Do they have a lit candle next to the register? What little things like that make you want to shop there?”

These off-site trips pay off in a number of ways, Mahoney says. “It plays into improving our service, it plays into our advertising, and help with our purchasing too. You might have a product you don’t feel like is a good performer in your store, and maybe there’s a price problem. Well maybe it’s not a price problem. Maybe it’s just that a product itself needs more active selling.”

You may see that product in a competitor’s store. See how someone working there might present it to you differently, in a way that might actually make you want to buy it.

“Steal that sales approach and put it in place in your store. Instead of making the wrong purchasing decision of cutting the product, now buy a couple extra cases of it because you can actually sell it,” Mahoney says.

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