What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery Shopping is a form of Market or Field Research. It is a method of conducting Ethnographic Research.

Mystery shopping is the process of measuring and recording specific elements of the customer experience using qualified, recruited consumers to work as Mystery Shoppers. Mystery Shopping recreates genuine, realistic shopping situations so the Mystery Shopper is perceived by the tested staff member as a “normal” shopper. Feedback is then taken through these ‘Mystery Shoppers’ and the company use it to evaluate how close is the actual experience of the customers to the desired one. It prompts the company to think about the areas it is lacking it and act upon them. It is a form of primary market research that uses quantitative techniques as the Mystery Shopper usually has to fill out a form rating his/her experience. While in person / on store check is the most widely used method, the mystery shopping exercise is also done through:

  • Telephone
  • Website and social media
  • Hidden audio / video recording

Though Mystery Shopping is more popular for restaurants and retail outlets, it is also done for numerous other services such as banks, apartment buildings, cell phone providers, car dealers, health care providers, movie theatres, resorts, etc.

Broadly, the technique is used for evaluating a company or one of its outlets internally. The specific aspects to be measured will be as per the client’s choice. For example, one of an apparel’s franchisee would wish to check:

  • Whether their store opens at the right time
  • Are customers being attended satisfactorily during peak hours too
  • Cleanliness of the store and general hygiene
  • Availability of all items as per customers’ choices
  • Courteousness of the staff members

The purpose of Mystery Shopping is NOT to get someone fired by catching them doing something wrong. It is not to give any one a free pass either. The sole aim of the exercise is to tell the company what they are doing right or wrong and how they can improve, to simply tell them what happened as it happened. A true picture of their performance internally and externally are presented to them so that they can improvise on the required areas.

Importance of Mystery Shopping:

A company interested in a Mystery Shopping Program wants to identify what works or what does not work in their business. Each company focuses on different topics: up-selling, uncovering improvement areas, and general approach among other topics. The results help the company decipher what areas need improvement. A report is sent to the client after each visit is performed, which may be read by different people including staff members at the tested location and managers at the company headquarters. A good Mystery Shopping program lets you determine which locations are current or possible problems, and provide feedback on how to improve customer service there. Just as you measure and maintain the machine, Mystery Shopping can act as a preventive customer service.

A store manager keeps a vigil on his employees while they deal with the customers in person and over the phone. This often makes the employees nervous and they become inadvertent under pressure. Instead, a mystery shopper brings out the true picture of the employees as they perform naturally. This helps to locate the fault and the drawbacks of each and every employee perfectly which subsequently helps in improving customer satisfaction. Sometimes the customers inquire about the products over the phone before coming to the store. In this situation, the employee’s ability to converse with them over the phone, in order to convert the caller into a potential customer, matters the most. To locate the faults of the employee, some fake calls are required, and only a professional mystery shopper can do it. A store can avail the same kind of services provided by the companies for the product distribution and marketing. Mystery shoppers are hired by the companies to find out what the customers think about the new product that hits the market.

Hence, Mystery shopping is definitely an effective tool to gain insight into the customer needs and improve in areas where a company is lacking. It also helps in checking the employees’ morality and effectiveness. However, a challenge with this technique is maintaining mystery shopper quality and integrity.