Mystery Shopping Explained

The use of mystery shopping strategies is nothing new, in fact, retailers have been adopting these methods as a means to gain valuable customer insights, as well as to make positive changes to the running of their businesses, for many decades.

Whilst mystery shopping, also commonly known as secret shopping, can be applied across a large number of industries, it is most frequently utilized within the retail sector, whereby businesses can attain detailed understandings of their customers’ viewpoints, particularly with regard to the in-store shopping experience.

Here, we discuss what a mystery shopping scheme entails, and how retailers, staff and customers can benefit.


What do mystery shoppers do?

People who participate in these schemes are, typically, members of the general public, who have actively selected to sign up via a third-party provider. Their mission is to act as an ordinary customer, evaluating their in-store (or, sometimes, online) experience and reporting back to the mystery shopping company with their findings.

The retail stores participating in the scheme have also signed up to take part in order to gain insights into the customer experience, with the intention of improving. In collaboration with the provider, retailers can generate a series of tasks for the mystery shoppers to complete, for instance, making a complaint or asking a product-related question.


What benefits do they offer?

Mystery shopping programs can be extremely beneficial to retailers, providing them with deeper insights which they may not have been able to access before. Retailers can assess whether their products, pricing, placements and promotions strategies are working, or if there is room for improvement. If changes are made following the feedback, retail businesses might see profit and sales increases.

If staff performance is a concern within the business, adopting mystery shopping services can certainly help. Specific tasks can be included, such as asking for assistance from an employee or returning an item, allowing customers to assess how their issues were dealt with. The findings can help retailers establish whether certain staff members or whole teams need more training, require disciplinary action, or should be rewarded for their efforts.

If mystery shopping schemes become a regular occurrence, a level of accountability is established, and staff will put greater emphasis on their customer service skills.

Moreover, consumers will benefit from a better in-store experience, which increases the chance of them making a purchase or returning in the future.


What is evaluated?

All plans can be tailored according to the requirements of the retailer, which means that, working in conjunction with the mystery shopping provider, businesses can decide upon the elements that they wish to measure. A bespoke approach allows for a more in-depth analysis than that which is acquired by typical customer satisfaction surveys.

Participants are given a list of what to assess or look out for when entering the store, having a pre-established set of criteria to evaluate. Once the assessment is complete, they must pass their findings onto the provider, which will analyze and present their conclusions to the retail business.

For a mystery shopping strategy to be successful, the retail company must first recognize what their ideal customer experience encompasses. Should employees greet every customer who enters the store? Should sales assistance be offered to everyone?

Once these points have been distinguished, retailers can more easily establish appropriate measurement criteria with the mystery shopping provider. The provider will then create a custom evaluation package to give to each participant before entering the store.

As such, strategies are unique to each retailer, ensuring that emphasis is placed only on what matters most to their business, and which might help produce the best experiences for their customers in the long-run.


How frequent should they be?

The most rewarding mystery shopping schemes form part of long-term development strategies, which means they should take place on a semi-regular basis (perhaps once per quarter or half-yearly), rather than as a one-off.

This ensures that the changing landscape of the business, its employees and the retail sector as a whole, are assessed when they need to be.

Likewise, mystery shoppers should not enter a store too frequently because employees may continuously act on their “best behavior”, which does not provide a business with an accurate representation of their current situation.


Final thoughts

Many industries with a predominantly customer-facing workforce have embraced mystery shopping over the years, particularly within the retail sector.

Such schemes help businesses assess the state of affairs they are currently in so that they can make the positive changes they need to improve in-store customer experiences. Additionally, they can influence staff performance, as well as being used for future strategy-planning.


Contributed by Ella Sutton, a content writer for Assosia, a retail research company based in the UK.


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