Who Are These Mysterious Shoppers, Anyway?
You’ve probably seen ads for companies looking for mystery shoppers: Individuals who pose as regular shoppers to secretly gather information about store policies, customer service, and other data points. It all sounds very cloak-and-dagger, but when you’re on the other side of mystery shopping, you’re really searching for clarity–not mystique. Brands considering mystery shopping for market research need to weigh the pros against the cons to demystify exactly what an undercover shopper can reveal.
Mystery Shopping Pros
Before hiring a shopper or shopper service, brands must be clear on what information and experiences a shopper should be on the lookout for. When done properly and thoroughly, mystery shopping reveals a bevy of benefits.
- Competitor Analysis. Sending a mystery shopper to evaluate a brand and its competitor side-by-side can yield in-depth analysis on the products, policies, and locations of a nearby retail rival. A mystery shopper can stage similar experiences–returning an item, for instance–to see how both stores stack up. In the realm of market research VS competitive intelligence, this is very valuable.
- Practice New Policies. When a retail store implements new policies, it needs to see those policies put to practice. Mystery shoppers can mimic natural circumstances to see whether or not employees are adhering to rules and regulations.
- Employee Evaluation. If the boss is evaluating an employee, he’s bound to be on his best behavior. A mystery shopper ensures a realistic evaluation based on how employees interact with real customers and not just their supervisors.
- Informal Opinions. Surveys and polls can be helpful to discern customer opinions, but they can be skewed toward the positive. Mystery shoppers can offer informal opinions on everything from point-of-sale to products, displays, customer service, and even the cleanliness of a retail location. Those opinions can be used to better understand customers and make improvements accordingly.
Mystery Shopping Cons
Mystery shopping definitely has its place in data collection and market research, but it’s not a perfect study.
- Low Data Volume. Unlike in-store surveys, online polls, or focus groups, mystery shopping is a one-man job. Because a mystery shopping excursion takes time and money (and because the shopper can only visit one store at a time) data volume can be low. After all, a singular shopper can only gather so much information.
- Shallow Data. A mystery shopper is his own person, which means he brings his own preferences, habits, and shopping sense to the table. Mystery shopping tells you how one type of customer shops, but not how all types of customer shops. It’s important to compare mystery shopping results with those of your ideal customer profile.
- Bias and Validity. Mystery shopping is completely subjective, no matter how unbiased the mystery shopper claims to be. Personal bias can skew results enough so that validity can be called into question. ‘
- Singular Experience. A mystery shopper’s experience in a store only represents one interaction with employees and location. A busy day, short staff, or any number of mishaps can affect one experience, but not truly represent a regular customer visit.
Mystery shopping can offer real data from real people, but take care: bias and missteps can affect results. It’s best to use mystery shopping not as a mass data collection technique, but a method for testing and refining customer experience on a case-by-case basis.