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Years ago, to put myself through college as an undergrad, I worked in retail.  One of our monthly duties was to “shop the competition”.   Back then it was mostly for pricing and inventory content.  But, going shopping is a great idea for any business owner.

When you go shopping, don’t just shop the competition, shop your own business and see what happens.  If you can’t easily “shop yourself”, have a fellow business owner or friend shop your company.

Then compare yourself to your top competitors to see how you stack up.  Create a special form to track responses, and follow-up on any deficiencies.

Check for these top items:

Visit the website.  Is it easy to navigate?  Does it provide useful information?  Does the website give the viewer an opportunity to join a list or follow a blog?  Is contact information easy to find?  Can you make a purchase from the website?

Send an email:  From the website send an email or form based question to customer service and to sales.  How long does it take them to respond?  Anything longer than 24 hours is too long.

Call the office: Is the first person answering the phone pleasant, do they sound happy to work there?  Do you go straight to a voicemail and never get a “live” person?  If you are sent to voicemail, do you feel you are in a “customer service black hole” or is it easy to navigate and get information?

Buy Something:  If the product or service is low-priced, buy something.  Was the sales person friendly and knowledgeable?  Is the product or service of quality?  Did the sales person offer to add you to any special promo list or blog?

Once you’ve shopped your own company and the competition, see how you compare.  If any of your interactions were lacking, fix them.  If you have a strength compared to your competitors, make sure you keep that strength, and communicate your benefits to potential customers.

Oh, and have fun shopping.