Mystery Shopping: how it really works.

Retail Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping is, ironically, a bit of a mystery to many people.

It’s called a variety of things: secret shopping, research shopping, mystery consumer, and several others depending on where abouts in the world you find yourself.

The Short Version

But what is mystery shopping really?

Mystery shopping is a valuable market research a tool where people observe the quality of products and/or services while acting like a regular customer. This information is then collated and analysed to create actionable insights.

Is mystery shopping the right tool for your business?

Mystery shopping can be adapted to most industries that have offer a service or a product. Mystery shopper services are performed all the time for hotels, airlines, restaurants, and retail shops. The only time when it might not be a good approach is for professional services like those of a lawyer or accountant. If you’re a law firm or a doctor you might be able to adapt it to mystery calling to check on the performance of your reception, for example, but obviously that’s as far as you can go. Still, it’s not like it hasn’t been done.


The Long Version

And does how mystery shopping really work?

The ‘regular customer’ bit often leads to confusion. Understandably, because there’s a little bit more to it than that.

A mystery shopper is charged with discovering how specific elements of your business work.

Say, for example, that you run a bath and shower soap store. You want to know whether your customers are happy with your staff’s level of service. Of course, you could ask them yourself, but you might not get a realistic response: people are easily influenced by different thing, after all. Instead, let’s say you hire a market research company or a mystery shopping specialist to check into this for you.

You and your new specialist will sit down and discuss the possible options to get to the bottom of what you’re after. For something arguably as straightforward as checking on how your staff is treating customers, a fairly simple scenario can be developed.

The company will select appropriate people and set them up with a visit to your shop. When we say ‘appropriate’ we mean that you and the company can specify the sort of person you need. If, for instance, you only want to know what your middle-aged female customers think of your staff, then you’ll only need women aged between 40-55. Depending on the industry you’re in, or the specificity of the data you’re after, you can narrow it down even further. The goal is to get specific information that will address whatever question you have about your product or service.

So a little bit about terminology before we move on so we’re all on the same page:

Mystery Shop or Mystery Visit: the act during which the research is gathered. Now if we’re going to pick over the semantics, I suppose we could argue that a ‘mystery shop’ is on in which the shopper actually buys something, and a ‘mystery visit’ more closely resembles a simple look around.

Mystery shopper: the individual who conducts the shop/visit.

Shop/Visit Scenario: the steps shoppers must take during their shop/visit.

After having isolated your shopper profile you’ll have to decide on your scenario. Do you want to know how your staff react to a particular customer complaint? Or do you want to make sure your staff is following the correct procedures in closing a sale? The scenario is designed to isolate those specific issues.

Let’s say you want to see how your staff deal with a customer returning an item because they bought it by mistake. You might have a system in place to deal with this, but is your staff following that system? Alternatively, you might just want to see how your people deal with this without any previous training or system.

Either way, your scenario could run something like this:

  1. Shopper browses wares.
  2. Shopper purchases a packet of soaps.
  3. Shopper leaves
  4. Shopper comes back ‘realizing’ they’ve accidentally bought the wrong brand of soap and would like to return the items.

During this scenario, the shopper is assessing the reaction of your front line staff, remembering what they say, how they say it, whether they wore their uniform. All the things you’ve requested the company to analyze.

When the shop is finished, the shopper will fill in the questionnaire.

This questionnaire will be something that you and the company have finalized together after deciding on the scenario. It will run through all the things you’re looking to check.

These finished questionnaires are where the valuable data comes from: they’re checked for quality and consistency and then analyzed. The data that is gathered from this is then presented to you in a report, allowing you to see the answer to your question clearly and quickly.

Obviously this is a general overview of how mystery shopping is conducted; and I haven’t even touched on how mystery shoppers are recruited – that’s something for a completely different entry, and possibly a different department.

3 replies

    Trackbacks & Pingbacks

    1. […] we look at this, let’s make one thing very clear: mystery shoppers are not employees of any of the mystery shopping providers, they are independent individuals who […]

    2. […] a business’ performance. If you’d like to know how mystery shopping actually works, check out this article. The question we’d like to address today is why companies should even bother with it; how does […]

    3. […] this year, I wrote about how mystery shopping really works, giving a basic explanation of how it’s accomplished and what might be […]

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