If you own or manage a retail business, chances are you’ve heard of mystery shopping. But what is it, and how can it improve your bottom line? Peak Surveys gets to the bottom of this important revenue-building tool.
Mystery Shopping – Definition & Background
Mystery shopping, also known as “secret shopping”, is a method that allows retail businesses to gather a variety of invaluable data pertaining to quality of service and specific products and services, as well as to ensure compliance with industry regulations. The mystery shopper, whose identity and purpose are usually unknown to the store’s employees, is tasked with fulfilling one or more of the following objectives: asking a question, purchasing a product, behaving in a certain way, registering a complaint or evaluating how employees are following their prescribed guidelines. Upon completion of his “mission”, the mystery shopper reports his findings and experiences to the business’s manager. The medium by which this report is delivered ranges from a simple questionnaire to full audio/video recordings.
Mystery shopping traces its roots back to the early 1940s, when it was used as a tool to gauge the integrity of a business’s employees. It quickly became popular in a variety of consumer-focused venues, including:
- Retail stores
- Movie theaters
- Gas stations
- Car dealerships
- Health clubs
Beginning around 2010, the mystery shopping service began appearing in the healthcare industry, with the objective of using “mystery patients” to help evaluate and improve the overall customer service provided by hospitals and healthcare providers.
How Can Mystery Shopping Improve Your Retail Business?
Here are three of the biggest ways that mystery shopping can improve your retail business.
Evaluate Company Employees
Mystery shopping is a highly effective way to evaluate your business’s employees. Are your employees asking the right questions? Are they providing the right answers? Do they possess enough knowledge of your product/service? Is their personality a fit with that of your company? Honest answers to these important questions are much easier to obtain when a manager or floor supervisor isn’t around.
A mystery shopper helps further the goal of fielding a team of employees that conducts themselves appropriately and provides first-class customer service.
Understand Customer Satisfaction & Experience
Every business wants to know what a customer is thinking from the moment he enters the store until the second he leaves, ideally after purchasing an item. Mystery shopping fulfills this desire, giving companies an inside look at a consumer’s “purchase path”: how they go about exploring a store, what items they show the most interest in, how much they spend, and, overall, how satisfied they are with the full in-store experience. The feedback provided by mystery shoppers makes it much easier for companies to grow their customer base and refine the in-store approach.
Employee Training & Growth
Feedback gleaned from mystery shoppers is a big asset in terms of the ongoing training that companies provide to their employees. If one or more workers lacks a certain skill or falls short on certain competencies, a store manager can design a training program that addresses the specific shortcomings. Moreover, if a large group of employees displays the same shortcoming, it may be symptomatic of a larger, company culture-related issue.