What are mystery shopping services and how can retailers benefit?

Although they can be applied across all industries, mystery shopping services are frequently used by retailers to provide valuable customer insights into shopping experiences.

Mystery shoppers are typically ordinary people hired by third-party providers to pose as regular customers. However, their real purpose is to assess a businesses’ operations and the quality of their experience. They will be given specific tasks, such as asking specific questions, returning an item, taking photos or issuing a complaint.

How do mystery shoppers benefit retailers?

Mystery shoppers are able to provide objective feedback on their overall customer experience, which in turn, allows retail businesses to gain valuable insights into whether their in-store products, pricing, placement and promotions are resonating well with real customers. Once these have been analysed and improved upon, retailers might well see an improvement in their sales and profits.

Moreover, when dealing with customer-facing members of staff, mystery shoppers are able to assess their experiences with them, which allows a retailer to measure staff performance and evaluate whether specific people or teams are in need of extra training. Not only does this create a culture of employees placing greater importance on customer relationship building, but it also motivates them to continue improving.

A tailored approach

Unlike customer satisfaction surveys, mystery shoppers are told beforehand exactly what they should be looking for and assessing. As such, they may be given a list of several criteria which must be assessed, and then passed on to the relevant agency for analysis.

In order to come up with a good strategy, retailers must have a clear idea of how they expect the customer experience to be. For example, when a customer enters the premises, do they need to be greeted by a member of staff? Should they straight-away be given sales assistance?

Once a retailer is aware of what they expect from staff and the overall experience, they can discuss these criteria with mystery shopping services which will help design a suitable, bespoke evaluation program. This ensures that with each individual retail business, the focus is placed only the crucial elements unique to them, and those which will have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction.

Not just a one-off

It is important to note that simply adopting a mystery shopping scheme within a retail business cannot change behaviours, it is all down to how they decide to make use of the data and information collected in order to improve future customer experiences.

Moreover, mystery shopping should not occur as a once-off. Truly transformational schemes must take place regularly (such as per quarter, or annually) so that performance can be measured as an on-going improvement process.

Mystery shopping programmes are used frequently by the retail sector, although any business which regularly deals with customers could benefit from using such services. Not only do they provide valuable insights into how to improve customer experience, but they also allow retailers to assess employee performance and help with future strategy planning.