September 14, 2022

How to Perform a Killer Comp Shop

How to Perform a Killer Comp Shop


Katie Steib

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Competitive (comp) shopping is essential to the life of any retail professional. Whether you’re a merchant, planner, buyer or designer, it’s key you understand your competitor’s assortments, the shopping habits of the customer and much more. While the general idea is widespread, the specifics of how a company handles comp shopping can differ. Here’s a look at some of the activities that retail brands consider comp shopping, and how to make the most of your own efforts. 

Types of Comp Shopping

In-Person Comparative Shopping

In-person comparative shopping allows brands to understand the in-store assortments of competitors, and how they stack up to their own stores. This requires store walk-throughs of your competitors’ stores and your own stores, along the same timeline for accurate comparison. Comp shoppers will take notes on assortment architecture and which categories seem to be driving the business. And, of course, this process will often involve lots of (sneaky) photos!

Online Comparative Shopping

Online comp shopping follows the same process as above, but in virtual form. Since you’re not physically walking through a store, you can go nuts with taking a lot of screenshots of what you find. Again, you’ll want to also spend time browsing your own website in order to truly make an apples to apples comparison. Pro tip: Try not to get too distracted by turning online comp shopping into straight-up online shopping.


This term refers to observing the shopping patterns of the customer, and is a must for successful retailers. This might include watching shoppers in your stores to see what displays get the most attention and which items they pick up most. It can also include things like observing a public place (e.g. Starbucks) to see what your customer demographic is wearing on a Saturday morning (or whatever scene fits your product niche). Patterning is one of the biggest social psychology aspects of retail, and can really help you hone in on what your customers want.

Product Category Specific Trips 

These are fun ways to get the 4-1-1 on competitors’ offerings and customer preferences. Miami Swim Week is a great place for swimwear retailers to perform a lot of comp shopping in a short amount of time, while providers of outdoor attire can do the same at Outdoor Retailer. This condenses the time it takes to conduct a large volume of comp shopping, and also can give you insight into current trends.

Event Specific Trips

Similar to the product specific trips above, event specific trips are where you go to an event you know your key customers would attend. Music festivals like Coachella & Lollapalooza are a perfect example of this, as are concerts, sporting events and even New York Fashion Week. While attending such events, you can collect real-time data about what your customer is wearing in their natural habitat, and the types of clothing they turn to when putting together their best ‘fits.

Crushing the Comp Shop in 5 Easy Steps

  1. Get the timing right. 

If you’re in-person comp shopping or patterning, make sure you’re doing so at the time of day when your customer is most likely to be there shopping. If you’re not going at top times, your data points won’t be as accurate. For example, you’d want to try Saturday mornings for working professionals or weekdays after school for teens.

  1. Be cognizant of micro factors. 

We all know the supply chain has been a mess for more than two years, leaving a lot of Christmas themed inventory arriving in stores in February. While it’s important to take note of everything you see when you’re comp shopping, take external circumstances into consideration to form a complete picture. For instance, view assortment architecture with a grain of salt given today’s off-kilter supply chain, both online and in-store.

  1. Take advantage of big shopping holidays.

Let’s face it; retail execs work on Black Friday. Even if the idea of the overwhelmingly crowded stores makes your skin crawl, you must acknowledge such holidays are prime for patterning. Be there on these days if you want to get some major insights from comp shopping. 

  1. Work as a team.

One of the most fun - and valuable - ways to handle comp shopping excursions is to go with coworkers! You’ll be able to observe more, validate (or challenge) each other’s findings, get your results faster and even throw in a fun meal together. Bonus - there is a lot of patterning to observe in restaurants and coffee shops, so take your time, have some fun and keep an eye on everything. 

  1. Document findings immediately.

There will be so many little nuances you find while comp shopping, that you simply won’t be able to remember them all. So, take plenty of notes and photos throughout the process, and work on a recap as a team as quickly as possible afterwards.

Access this template here!

When you’re done crushing it at comp shopping, make sure you’re centralizing all of your data in an integrated platform (Toolio). Sign up for a demo here!

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