Personal finance site Mint.com just launched a new site called Mint Data, which provides real-time information about consumer spending. The site has only been around for a few days, and there's clearly lots of room for improvement, but it's already fair to say that this is a must-use resource.
What Mint Data is:
Mint Data draws from the spending activity of over 4 million Mint users. Based on that activity, the site offers information on how popular a business is, and how much consumers spend there on an average visit. Businesses are broken down by city and category (restaurants, bars, 'personal care', electronics stores, etc.). Mint Data ranks all of the businesses within each category and city, and lets you compare individual businesses to the average business in that category in that market.
Why you should care:
Mint Data represents a fresh, unprecedented source of data on a number of questions that should be of concern to just about any retail business.
1. How does your average customer spend compared to that of your closest competitors? It's easy to know how your prices stack up with the competition. It's a lot harder to know how much the average customer is actually dropping per visit. If similar businesses with comparable prices are extracting more from each visitor than you are, that's an obvious area for improvement.
2. How does your customer volume stack up to that of your competitors? This is less of a selling point, because you probably have some idea of this already. But Mint Data ranks businesses by 'popularity' -- that is, volume of visits -- as well as spend per visit. It's probably not a perfect measure, but it's objective, and completely independent of any other estimate you might have.
3. How do recent trends in your own sales compare to larger industry trends? Ultimately, it's the bottom line that matters, but your relative performance is important too. If your sales suddenly take off, it's important to know whether you're riding an industry-wide wave, or leaving your competition in the dust.
4. How do other potential markets stack up? If you're ready to start thinking about expanding into new markets, this is a great resource. All businesses are broken down by city, but multiple outlets of the same business are lumped together within cities. So if there are any mid-size or large chains in your industry, this is a great way to compare consumers in different cities. The average Apple Store customer in New York spends $259, compared to just $188 in Atlanta. That's very valuable information to anyone selling high-end consumer electronics.
The bottom line:
There are obviously some real limitations to this data. Four million users is an impressive base, but there's no reason to think that the average Mint user is exactly like the average consumer. So the absolute figures should probably be treated with skepticism. Of course, you'll have a great firsthand way of testing this, since you already know how much people spend at your own business.
However, Mint Data might skew the absolute figures, the relative ranking is probably pretty accurate. That is, how much people are spending per visit in your store compared to your competitors', or how much people spend in New York versus Atlanta, or how average spending is shifting at your business as compared to the industry as a whole.
This is extremely valuable data that has never been available before, and you should definitely take full advantage of it.