People think I love to shop, and quite honestly, they would be correct in making that assumption. I’ve mentioned it many times that I find myself in a mall on a weekly basis. I also tend to snoop electronic stores and phone stores such as Sprint and AT&T, not because I want to see if I can find great deals, that’s actually secondary.
What I’m really doing is bag and pricing assessments. I’m looking to see not just what is being bought, but which retailers seem more anxious than others, and if you have any understanding of commercial retail, then you know struggle and strain demographically by store. I call it pulse reading- I want to know who’s spending, and who’s not. The absolute worst thing to see is a packed mall and no bags. I also take in the local big box retailers such as Target, Walmart, and even tire centers. I’m looking for practical spending versus impractical.
So each week, I’m looking for pulse, much the same way you can snoop your Google stats. Keyword changes for search in your local market can signal either strain, confidence, or even bargain shopping. This can be essential to your blog, although possibly slightly a trailing indicator- it’s fresh content you could be writing to meet your local demand via search.
Another type of secret shopping I do is actually searching for property. Yes, I house hunt via all the big sites, have dummy accounts on all of them, and I like to experience what my own consumers are experiencing. I do the same with Craigslist by calling on properties, checking responses, and I generally get a really fresh reminder of how competitors are performing and adjusting. Do you remember the moment in Indiana Jones and the Ark when he realized the Germans were digging in the wrong place? Well, Craigslist in many markets (as well as competitor blogs) can often be a significant indicator of this fact. If you’ve done your homework, spent time getting a read on spending pulse and who in your local market is spending, you can typically adapt quickly.
Whatever path you take to reading your area pulse, make sure it’s consistent. Go too long and you could continue heading down the wrong path or spending when no one’s buying (that’s the worst).
Why do I do all of this? Well, watch the business news for more than one day and you’ll either throw your television out the window, or worse, remain passive. The problem with business news on tv is that leading and trailing indicators are no substitution for what’s happening on the ground in front of you. Your market could be failing or rebounding, but nationally reading something totally differently- think macro versus micro. You cannot make correct decisions without having a true pulse on what’s immediately around you.
Another thing I try to do is keep up with new construction agents in my market place, I visit them, and often engage them in their perceptions of the market place. This can not only give you insight into true inventory levels, but you can often read the truth on their faces- remember, they’re trained to be peachy even when things are not so peachy.
By the way, while you’re at it, I’ve found store managers love to chat, it never hurts to get their read. Shoe departments typically work on commission and can get you a sense of spending trends. Metrically speaking, there are a lot of ways to go about this, but personally, I want to be right in the middle of eye of any hurricane or slightly left of the whole storm.