Tuesday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. Petra B. enters the store. She is on a mission. Petra B. is a mystery shopper. Armed with her wallet, a trained eye and exact instructions by the storeowner, it is now up to her to put the service quality of the store under the microscope. Mystery shoppers are the kind of customer, salespeople should be especially polite to. However, as the term ”mystery shopping“ already implies, service personnel is not able to distinguish them from regular shoppers. And there is a good reason for that.
Mystery shopping has long been the tool of choice when it comes to marketing research. This is the only way to measure actual service quality in retail objectively. However, you cannot create something out of nothing, as the old saying goes. Which is why it is important for companies that want to improve their service through mystery shopping to also train mystery shoppers well and properly. Only shoppers that know exactly what’s important are able to ask the right questions and keep an eye on the key departments at the store.
Poor preparation falsifies results
Great for the industry – but only at first sight: A study by the market research institute Dr. Grieger & Cie. in early 2013 revealed that order volumes for mystery shoppers – and therefore interest in improving the customer service wasteland that is Germany – have increased overall. Individual preparation by supervising market research institutes however has decreased. Oftentimes though, companies that request mystery shopping projects don’t know how inadequately the test subjects are being prepared for this important job.
Frequently, mystery customers are merely informed in writing. Subsequently, nobody makes sure the mystery shoppers have really understood their assignment. In the study, 46.6 percent of interviewed shoppers indicated they only received documents. Only 8 percent had a clarifying, personal conversation. ”This is a risky development: companies rely on mystery shopping results, though the necessary quality is not being achieved in many cases,” Gunnar Grieger comments on the study. ”This is why you have to assume that the derived measures are in part based on wrong information,“ the press release states. Only if they are well prepared, are mystery shoppers able to actively help in improving service and store design.
Mystery store checks
Once the mystery shopper is in the store, his/her focus is not just on service personnel. First, the mystery shopper looks around the store. He explores- depending on the customer request – the entrance area, checks whether he can get his bearings easily and examines lighting and decoration. The checkout area is also important: here, the shopper looks to see whether enough registers are open so the customers don’t have to wait in line too long.
Aside from cleanliness and orientation, merchandise presentation, sales mix and sales campaigns promote sales. In this case, mystery shoppers check whether special sales campaigns are staged properly, so that customers can also spot them as something unique.