Competitor Mystery Shopping and Competitor Intelligence Research – taking out the mystery

This page is aimed at those who are interested in gaining a better understanding of the competitors in their market.

It is intended to be informative, though by no means comprehensive. It will provide an overview of some of the advantages of undertaking Competitor Intelligence Research and of some of the sources and approaches that we use when undertaking a project on behalf of a client.

Some of the techniques and steps that we’ll discuss are more (or less) relevant depending on whether the client operates in a B2B (Business to Business) or B2C (Business to Consumer) market, and often depending on the specific market in question, as well as the information being sought.

If you’ve read enough at any point, feel free to give us a call on 01392 984224 for an informal chat about your project or contact us online.

Competitor Mystery Shopping

Competitor Mystery Shopping alone can be a very useful way of finding out about your competitors – it can reveal highly valuable, often unexpected information, covering a number of facets of each business.

However, it is just one technique within the wider field that’s usually known as Competitor Intelligence Research.

Competitor Intelligence Research

Competitor Intelligence Research usually involves gathering and collating information and insights from several sources about several competitors (typically 10-15). Sometimes lots of different techniques and sources are used, sometimes it’s just a few.

Competitive Intelligence Research will usually include a Mystery Shopping element, involving a selection of enquiries to target businesses, with some additional “headline” pieces of information being gathered about each target business, with information contained in a “customer’s view” profile / report for each business. Usually, there is also an executive report or presentation including analysis (e.g. SWOT, exploitable differences, etc.) and recommendations.

Sometimes, the process can be much more involved (including all the techniques outlined below) and the output can be more detailed.

Customerwise can assist with more modest and simple projects, as well as those that are more involved and in-depth.

Competitor Intelligence Research

As you’re on this page and you’ve read this far, we’ll assume that you already have an interest in Competitor Mystery Shopping and / or Competitor Intelligence Research, and that you have an idea of how it could be valuable for you.  So, we’ll get straight onto the things that are probably of most interest to you…

  • Where and how is the information sought? (sources and techniques)
  • What sort of information can be obtained?
  • Where is the information likely to be useful?
  • When and why should you outsource it?
  • What is the likely cost if it is outsourced?
  • Where is the potential ROI?
  • What’s involved and what are the first steps?

Where and how is the information sought? (sources and techniques)

The potential sources of information and the techniques that are used for Competitive Intelligence Research are many and varied. Here are some examples:

Desk based / online research: free access

Lots of valuable information can often be obtained by simply spending the time to gather, verify and collate information that is already freely available in the public domain. Such sources might include:

  • Company websites, brochures, press releases, articles, announcements, accounts & reports.
  • General and industry-specific print and online publications.
  • Recruitment advertising
  • Social media comments and “gossip”.

Online specialist and paid websites, tools and databases

  • Specialist private online industry forums and groups
  • Paid online profile research and analysis tools, e.g. for:
    • Traffic analysis
    • Ranking analysis
    • Backlink and influencer analysis
    • Ad analysis
    • SERP & Keyword analysis
    • Social intelligence, mentions etc.

Mystery Shopping activity

  • In B2C industries this may involve a full experience with a transaction, allowing observations to be made about every facet of the business that is visible to a normal customer.
  • B2B work often involves intelligently planned telephone enquiries. Sales staff are often pleased to discuss their companies, products and services, as well as their competitors.
  • B2B projects may involve a “viable” potential customer or client, going deeply into the sales process, perhaps involving premises visits and / or face to face meetings.


Interviews (in person / telephone)

These conversations may well reveal confidential and “off-record” information. Potential interviewees include:

  • Senior staff members (most likely to reveal information about other competitors)
  • Suppliers, customers, partners, distributors, agents and brokers,
  • Industry analysts and experts, consultants, staff within trade bodies, journalists
  • Others, including staff (most likely to discuss the market as a whole and / or their competitors), recently departed staff, recruiters

The techniques and sources will vary according to the market, specific targets, the information that is required, and the preferences of the client. A creative, flexible and resourceful approach is likely to yield the best results.

(Read enough? If you’re ready to have a chat please contact us online or give us a call now on 01392 984224!)

What sort of information can be obtained?

At the time of writing in 2018, the breadth, scope and depth of information, data and insights that can be obtained about competitors (when using the right methods) is immense.

If it is collected, curated and condensed in the right way, the potential value in terms of better business decision making is incalculable.

Often, simply looking at publicly available information in a more thorough way, can reveal valuable and actionable insights.

Competitor Mystery Shopping can often yield detailed and up-to-date and highly actionable information that is only available from speaking to people “inside” the relevant business, and from interacting with the business from the perspective of a potential customer.

Interviews with customers, other players in the market, and other competitors can all also provide priceless insights and help to produce a rounded picture.

To truly understand the relative strength of their competitors, businesses must also have accurate information relating to their own profile and visibility. It therefore makes sense in nearly all  cases for the sponsor of a study to have themselves included within in it on a like-for-like basis along with their competitors.

It is also important to consider any competitor research of what the market as a whole, and what the customers and potential customers within it think and feel about a business.


In the table below there are some examples of the sorts of insights that can be obtained through Competitor Intelligence Research, and the likely ways that they can help in decision making.


Areas for data and insightsFor better decisions and performance in…
Key competitor headline data: Location (s), turnover and other key financial data, employee headcount, structure, number of clients, geographic coverage, growth rates, etcA useful overview of each competitor’s key data is useful for putting other in depth information into context
Competitor product range and / or key service offer / options. Key value proposition.Comparing your own product / service range and value proposition objectively. Allows you to optimise and improve where possible.
Product and service development: features and benefits, USPs and innovations.Identifying general trends and specific moves within the industry and by specific competitors. Guarding against potential advantage held by competitors. Positioning your business to add optimal overall value in the market.
Marketing strategy: positioning, specific target markets and niches, routes to marketUnderstanding where opportunities exist and where they don’t. Gaining new ideas and an general understanding of existing and potential markets. Avoiding missed opportunity.
Marketing tactics: advertising and lead generation, promotions, incentives, partnerships and affiliations, etc.Providing information and inspiration. What is working and what isn’t.
Online presence, profile and performance: traffic, keyword performance, social reach and influence, advertising spend, etc.Crucial insights into how your competitors are attempting to increase their visibility and inbound leads, where they’re succeeding, and where they’re not.
Competitor sales and marketing messagingDiscover how your competitors are positioning themselves and their products when competing for new customers. Formulate optimal messaging that will stand out and be effective within your competitive environment.
Sales and lead conversion processes, structured sales approaches, etc.Finding out how sales staff are handling leads, what processes are being followed for lead qualification (telephone, in person and online), what claims are being made, how they are building value and how products and services are being positioned against competition. Reliable and detailed insights into what is working (and what isn’t) within known and unknown markets can help you to refine your sales strategy.
Sales: standards of performance / executionComparing the quality of initial enquiry handling, needs analysis, sales techniques and approaches, negotiation and closing, the pursuit (or not) of leads, etc. This can help you to understand who your strongest competitors are in terms of lead conversion, and potentially learn from them.
Pricing strategy and tactics including rate cards and pricing packages and structures, bundles, and both official and unofficial discounting policies, etc.Help you to remain aware so you can remain competitive. Potentially helping you to find ways to add perceived value while increasing profitability. This area can be and often is inseparable from product and service features and benefits and brand value etc.
Terms of business / contact terms: usage thresholds, volume discounts, add-ons, chargeable extras, cancellation policies, etc.Helping to build up more accurate picture how your offer compares to your competitors in terms of “objective” value as far as possible.
Service and performance standardsInsights into how services are actually being delivered can help you to form a more realistic view of perceived value to clients, and areas in which you can excel, as well as insights into staff morale within competitor businesses.
Financial performance. Publicly available information and potentially up to date insider information.Knowing whether what your competitors are doing is actually working currently, whether their tactics pose a threat or an opportunity, or both.,
Acquisition or loss of major customers or clientsAs above, an awareness of a potential threat in the market and / or new business opportunities
Complaints, disputes or litigation, involving customers, suppliers, partners and former or current staff.Potential of new business, recruitment, supplier or or partnership opportunities.
Company reputation and image: general public and within target markets.Crucial information on how your competitors are perceived: particularly useful along with insights into how your business is seen.
Reputation of products and services: within target market and among the general publicUnderstanding the relevance and quality of existing products and services from current players. How well these fit known current and evolving customer needs.
Talent strategy: learning what competitors are doing to attract and retain the best staff, their methods of recruitment and the salaries and benefits being offered.Learning what competitors are doing to attract staff. Opportunities to improve by learning what is working and what isn’t, and to compete more intelligently.
Key personnel: recent and imminent or rumoured changesImplications could be enormous for businesses losing or gaining key personnel (e.g. potential for dissatisfied customers or customers and staff moving from one business to another).
Announcements rumours or evidence of potential moves into the market from players outside of the core industryAwareness of major potential changes like this can help your business stay one step ahead able to act and re-act swiftly or pre-emptively and appropriately.
Competing products and services. Rivalry in the market in relation to offerings prices, customer incentives, marketing activity, etc.Knowledge of rivalry and competitive moves and counter-moves could shed light on product / service offerings, customer preferences, and the market as whole.

Where and how is the information likely to be useful?

Better business decision making all round!

These insights could be considered along with other research and could be used in high stakes situations. For example they can be particularly valuable for businesses considering investments (e.g. in new products / services, property, plant and machinery, large scale marketing initiatives), entry into new markets, or possible acquisition targets.

Competitor intelligence techniques are often used to investigate potential acquisition targets and specific acquisition studies can be undertaken in relation to known potential targets.

More commonly, insights into your competitive environment can help with things like

  • Product and service development
  • Operations
  • Pricing
  • Marketing and sales strategy and tactics
  • Recruitment and talent strategy

…to name a few.

Better decision making

When and why should you outsource it?

Some businesses may have the resources to carry out this work themselves. It involves methodically planning for how to collect the relevant data (which itself requires some thought / knowledge / expertise), and then following the plan with enough flexibility and resourcefulness to get around as many obstacles as possible. Once the data is gathered, it is a matter of presenting it in a way that aids business decision making.

Speed is of the essence though. It is often said that time is the most limited resource. Certainly, business performance in every area is always bound by time, and can only be measured in relation to it. While there will always be a financial cost to outsourcing anything, businesses that are considering either undertaking or outsourcing this type of work might ask themselves whether they have plenty of time (in which to prepare and then act on the findings of their own research), or if they can justify a financial investment in order to save the time of in-house staff…and no doubt be able to act on the research sooner.

The real business value of competitor research that is completed in house over 6 months and acted on swiftly, could be very different to the value of research that is completed in 6 weeks and acted on swiftly.

One clear risk is that the longer that it takes for research to be carried out, the greater the chance that the findings (or some of them) are out of date or incomplete by the time they are acted upon.

What is the likely cost if it is outsourced?

The cost of competitor intelligence and competitor mystery shopping work depend heavily on the scope of the work. Prices range from a few thousand pounds for some mystery shopping reports and some outline “customer’s view” reports on a small number of competitors, and rise depending on the number of competitors to be studied and the information that’s required (the breadth, depth and the likely difficulty in obtaining it).

What is the ROI of Competitor Mystery Shopping and Competitor Intelligence Research?

The information that can be gleaned from Competitor Intelligence Research allows businesses to simply make better strategic, tactical and operational decisions. It is about supporting decision making, so better decisions are made.

The effect of better decisions is ultimately to gain or increase competitive advantage, increase market share and / or revenue and / or profitability.

A business could learn things that are working for competitors. They might be able to guard against, or even adopt those strategies or tactics, or improve on them.

A business might also learn about things that are not working for their competitors, and thereby avoid wasted investments in these areas.

There’s an almost endless range of possibilities in terms of what could be learned and how it might be acted on. Knowledge really is power.


What’s involved and what are the first steps?

If you’d like to consider working with us, initially a discussion by telephone or in person is the best way to get things started. This is normally a general, informal chat about your situation, and an outline of what and who you want to gain more of an understanding about.

Over normally two or more telephone conversations and initial exchanges of information (usually by email), a broad scope for the project will come together, along with an outline of the sort of information that is likely to be obtained.

At this stage we’ll provide a rough range of likely costs and ask for your feedback along with confirmation that the funds are potentially available. Once we have that confirmation, a detailed proposal document will be prepared. This will include the work to be carried out, deliverables, milestones and payment stages and so on. We may also outline further information that will be required from you to help us to carry out the work. When this agreement is authorised (and an appropriate deposit payment received), we will begin work.

During the project, we will refer to you for guidance if and where needed (and we may suggest ways that we can add in more data or improve the intended reporting format, free of charge), but where possible we will work independently until completion of the project and the presentation of findings.

At the end of the process, you will receive a package of valuable information and recommendations all geared towards helping you to compete more intelligently, and more effectively.

We always aim to exceed expectations.

Ready to get in touch? Feel free to contact us online or call for an informal initial chat on 01392 984224.



Paul works creatively with a broad range of B2C and B2B organisations to help them find ways to compete more effectively. Read More...

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