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beautystorebusiness.com | May 2017 65 KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR With any kind of mystery shopping, an overarching strategy produces the best results. Although you want the mystery shopper to see and report on everything, giving a special assignment to ascertain two or three key factors is often useful. For example, in your own store, you may have the shopper focus on customer ser- vice. Or, you might have another shopper give impressions about the overall ease of shopping and store layout. During your visit to the competition, you will most likely have a few specifics in mind that you want to compare. Many managers are inter- ested in how other stores increase sales. Although the answer isn't always obvious, several factors drive sales. Clearly, promo- tions and discounts can raise sales, but so can loyalty programs and social media exposure, which may not be apparent from a single in-person visit. One area definitely worth investigat- ing is the utilization of digital media in the store. Can you readily identify ways in which the store is using technology to increase sales? For example, if the store has an app, is it promoted within the store? Do customers appear to be using it? If optical reader codes, such as QR codes and SnapTags, are present, are customers scan- ning them to garner product information or download coupons? Also observe whether mobile payments are accepted. Can cus- tomers use their phone to make a payment or are other forms of payment, such as PayPal, accepted? Don't forget to take note of even relatively low-tech digital media like flat screens positioned around the store promoting products via short videos. Several additional aspects to pay attention to when you mystery shop include customer service, return policies, methods of merchandising new products, store cleanliness, shopping flow and staff knowledge. Some of these may be more important to you than others. Whatever your preferences, go in with a plan. The final piece of advice—buy some- thing. More than being the courteous thing to do, the purchase may yield insight you might miss without making the transaction. You'll get to see how the staff handles the sale, whether associ- ates are on commission and whether the receipt entices shoppers to return via special discount offers. Does the sales associate ask for an email address or invite you to join their rewards program? You might even purchase a product you're not familiar with and don't (but should) carry on your store's shelves! BACK AT THE STORE Post visit, immediately start thinking about how you can put in place some of the new ideas. You may be able to implement some right away. Others may require a team of associates to tackle. Either way, you're going to return to your store with some fresh ideas. Share observations from your visits with your employees. Walk them through your entire excursion, from the parking lot and perusing the aisles to the pur- chase and "thank you." As you describe your experience, your staff will gain a greater understanding of why you think such an endeavor is important. Ask them to visit competitors as well. Provide employees with a mystery shop- per questionnaire so they can capture their experience. Once a quarter, ask someone on the team to share their find- ings. Getting your team involved is key to keeping a fresh stream of ideas flowing into the workplace. Be mindful not to let these great ideas stagnate. Why not give them a try? And don't stop with beauty stores. Consider all your shopping endeavors to be learning opportunities. When you go out to eat or to the grocery store, look for ideas you can use in your store. Every encounter you have is a potential gold mine. A bank's decor may prompt your thinking about a better color scheme for your store. A restaurant server may offer a flash of genius for suggestive selling. A gas station could fuel an idea for a loyalty program … and so much more. So, what are you waiting for? Take stock of what you want to know and set out to shop the competition. ■ Dr. Steven Austin Stovall is Professor of Management at Wilmington College in Wilmington, OH.